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Georg Christoph STRATTNER (1644/45 - 1704): "Ich will den Herren loben allezeit - Geistliche Konzerte" (Sacred Concertos)

Miriam Feuersinger, Monika Maucha, soprano; Alexander Schneider, alto; Daniel Schreiber, tenor; Markus Flaig, bass
Les Escapades
Dir: Cosimo Stawiarski

rec: Sept 28 - 30, 2020, Karlsruhe, Altkatholische Kirche
Christophorus - CHR 77454 (© 2021) (60'20")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

Ach mein Vater, ich hab gesündiget; Du Hirt Israel, höre; Getreuer Schöpfer; Herr, der du uns hat anvertraut; Ich stelle mich bei meinem Lebena; Ich will den Herren loben allezeita; O Gott, du Ursprung aller Liebe

Cosimo Stawiarski, Christoph Riedo, violin; Franziska Finckh, Barbara Pfeifer, Sabine Kreutzberger, viola da gamba; Adina Scheyhing, viola da gamba, violone; Simon Linné, theorbo; Evelyn Laib, organ

In recent years, I have regularly paid attention to recordings of sacred music by composers from Lutheran Germany who were active in the second half of the 17th century, roughly speaking between the largest collections of music by Heinrich Schütz and the early cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach. Some of them are well-known, especially Dieterich Buxtehude, whose entire sacred output is available on disc. Right now we are seeing the progress of a project concerning the recording of the complete sacred works by his contemporary Johann Kuhnau. Other composers from this era are Johann Philipp Krieger and Johann Valentin Meder. Whereas these are not unknown quantities, the composer who is the subject of the disc under review here may be hardly known to most music lovers. This disc seems to be the very first entirely devoted to his oeuvre. ArkivMusic does not mention him in the list of composers. Recently, one piece from his pen appeared on disc, Herr, wie lange willst du mein so gar vergessen. Unfortunately, Strattner shares the fate of so many composers from 17th-century Germany, that a considerable part of his oeuvre has been lost.

Strattner was born in Gols in Burgenland (then part of Hungary), east of Lake Neusiedl. His father may have been the town organist Georg Strattner, who was probably his first teacher in music. However, as Gols was only a small town with a population of just over 1,000, there were not many opportunities for further development. In 1651, Samuel Capricornus, a distant relative, was appointed director of music in nearby Pressburg (today Bratislava). He took care of the young Strattner, who attended the Pressburg grammar school and sang as a chorister in church services. In this capacity, he became acquainted with music by some of the main masters of the time, such as Monteverdi, Schütz, Rovetta and Bertali. In 1657 Capricornus was appointed Kapellmeister at the court of the Duke of Württemberg in Stuttgart, and Strattner followed him. Capricornus has secured a position in the choir for him "because of his beautiful alto voice". When Capricornus died in 1665, Strattner left the court and in 1666 he took the position of Kapellmeister at the court of the Margrave of Baden-Durlach. This was remarkable, considering his age and the fact that he seems not to have written any music until then. Cosimo Stawiarski, in his liner-notes, suggests that in Stuttgart he may have acquired some experience in the art of composition.

From his time in Durlach hardly any music has come down to us, due to a great fire in 1689. At that time, Strattner was working in Frankfurt, where in 1675 he had been appointed director of music, among whose responsibilities was the composition of sacred music for the Barfüsserkirche (this position was later occupied by Georg Philipp Telemann). Apparently, Strattner was held in high esteem at the time, as his salary was considerably higher than that of his predecessor. In the next years, the city council showed its gratitude for the way he performed his duties by paying him for his compositions. In 1692 his activities as director of music came suddenly to an end, when he was found guilty of adultery. He was expelled from Frankfurt; his whereabouts in the next years are not known. In 1694 he worked at the court of the Dukes of Saxe-Weimar as a scribe and a tenor; in 1695 he was appointed vice-Kapellmeister. There he also died in 1704.

Strattner composed some works for the stage, but none of them have survived. His extant oeuvre comprises 21 sacred works, a number of hymns and three sacred songs. This means that this disc, including seven sacred pieces, is a substantial contribution to our knowledge of his output. The scorings of these seven pieces are for four or five voices (the latter with two soprano parts) and strings. The string ensemble is typical of German 17th-century music: two violins and three or four viole da gamba, sometimes also a violone.

The disc opens with Ich will den Herren loben allezeit for five voices and instruments; it is a setting of verses from Psalm 34. This work dates from 1690 and was written for the 7th Sunday after Trinity, but the choice of this text seems to have little to do with the readings of that day. As all the pieces, it opens with a short instrumental introduction. The largest part consists of solos, which include quite some coloratura. Two passages are set for the tutti: "O magnifiy the Lord with me" and "O fear the Lord".

In the sacred works of composers of the late 17th century we often find a mixture of the scared concerto of the 17th and the cantata of the 18th century. Ach Vater, ich hab gesündiget, written in 1689, is a good example, in that it includes texts from the Bible, free poetry and a concluding chorale. The biblical texts are from the gospels after St Luke and St Matthew. The piece opens with a quotation from the parable of the Prodigal Son: "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and I am no more worthy to be called thy son". This is sung by the soprano. After a ritornello, he continues with a plea for forgiveness, with a reference to a verse from the book of the prophet Ezekiel (ch 33, vs 11): "O God, o merciful Father, who has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live, spare, oh spare me and have mercy on me". The next two sections are a dialogue between the soprano (the sinner) and the bass, acting as the vox Dei. The latter quotes from St Matthew (vs 2, part of the gospel of the 19th Sunday after Trinity, for which this work was written), where Jesus says to a man brought before him, who is sick of the palsy: "Son, be of good cheer, thy sins be forgiven". The sinner answers: "I am comforted, what can further harm me?" The work ends with a stanza from the hymn Jesu, meine Freude: "Weicht, ihr Trauer-Geister". Strattner treats the hymn melody with considerable melodic and rhythmic freedom; often only fragments of the melody are used.

Both Getreuer Schöpfer and Ich stelle mich bei meinem Leben are settings of free poetry by unknown authors. The former has the character of a prayer and comprises three stanzas; the last ends with "Amen". Each of the stanzas is about one of the Persons of the Trinity. The latter, dating from 1676, has a tenor which is comparable to that of Bach's Cantata BWV 199 (Mein Herze schwimmt im Blut): The believer acknowledges his sinfulness, does penance and then appeals to Jesus's Passion, with which he payed for the sins of the faithful. The last of the seven stanzas opens with a quotation from St Paul's letter to the Romans (ch 8, vs33): "Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth". Three of the stanzas are for five voices, one for four; the other there are for a solo voice: soprano, alto and tenor respectively.

Du Hirt Israel, höre is a setting of verses from Psalm 80: "Give ear, O shepherd of Israel". This is a clear specimen of Strattner's mastery of counterpoint, as the four voices are treated on equal footing and have to sing in a declamatory manner. Herr, der du hast uns anvertraut is another setting of free poetry by an unknown author, comprising five stanzas. This piece is for the 9th Sunday after Trinity; the gospel of the day is Luke 16, where Jesus tells the parable of the unjust steward. This explains the content of this piece which is about the way man deals with money and property: he should care about the poor, which will be rewarded in afterlife.

The disc ends with O Gott, du Ursprung aller Liebe, which may have been written for a wedding. The title of the text by the German poet Christian Weise (1642-1708): 'Eine Musicalische Braut-Messe' (a musical bridal mass) points also in that direction. Each of the four stanzas is sung by one of the solo voices, and ends with a refrain for the tutti in which one word is changed in each of them: "So we shout in droves: Let the feast end deliciously/happily/joyfully/blissfully".

This disc leaves the impression that Georg Christoph Strattner was an outstanding and very original composer. I am quite impressed by what he has to offer in these pieces. His writing for voices and instruments is remarkable. The fact that so many of his works have not survived, has to be considered a major loss. All the more reason to perform and record the few compositions that have come down to us. The recording of his output is long overdue. Let's hope this is not the last disc devoted to Strattner's oeuvre. These performances are the best possible case for it. The singing is of the highest order, both in the solo episodes and in the tutti; diction, articulation and dynamics leave nothing to be desired. The playing of the strings is of the same standard.

This is one of the most important discs of its kind released in recent years.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Miriam Feuersinger
Markus Flaig
Monika Mauch
Alexander Schneider
Les Escapades

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