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Samuel CAPRICORNUS (1628 - 1665): "Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt - Sacred Concerts"

Capricornus Ensemble Stuttgart
Dir: Henning Wiegräbe

rec: Sept 28 - 30, 2016, Stuttgart-Sillenbuch, Martin-Luther-Kirche
Coviello Classics - COV 91708 (© 2017) (57'00")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/[D]
Cover & track-list
Scores Capricornus

Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669): Sonata II à 3; Samuel CAPRICORNUS: Deus docuisti me; Dixi Domino; Gaudens gaudebo in Domino; Ich hab den Herrn allezeit für Augen; Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt; Laetare Jerusalem in Domino

Lydia Teuscher, soprano; Philipp Niederberger, bass; Katharina Heutjer, Leila Schayegh, violin; Henning Wiegräbe, sackbut; Monika Fischaleck, dulcian; Juán-Sebastián Lima, theorbo; Johannes Strobl, organ

Samuel Capricornus is one of the many German composers of the 17th century, who are overshadowed by more famous colleagues, such as Heinrich Schütz. As so many of his contemporaries he travelled quite a lot, which had a lasting influence on his development as a composer.

He was born in Schertitz (Zercice) in Bohemia and baptised with the name of Samuel Friedrich Bockshorn. In order to escape from religious persecution his family fled to upper Hungary. In 1643 Capricornus went to Silesia to study Latin, theology and philosophy. After a short sojourn in Strasbourg he went to Vienna, where he came into contact with the main musicians who served at the imperial court, such as Giovanni Valentini, Antonio Bertali, Wolfgang Ebner, Johann Jacob Froberger and Giovanni Felice Sances. The Austrian court was under the spell of Italian music, and this was also the style which greatly influenced Capricornus. However, he didn't stay there for long; after a short period as a teacher in Reutlingen, south of Stuttgart, he returned to upper Hungary. For two years he acted as a teacher in Pressburg (Bratislava) and in 1651 he was appointed director of music at the Church of the Holy Trinity. In 1657 he was appointed Kapellmeister at the court in Stuttgart where he stayed for the rest of his life.

Capricornus was a prolific composer: extant inventories list over 400 compositions. However, a substantial part of his oeuvre has been lost, and that regards in particular his secular music. His compositions were held in high regard; their dissemination attests to that. He sought the approval of some of the major masters of his time. He sent some of his works to Giacomo Carissimi in Rome, who performed them and requested them to be published. Heinrich Schütz was full of praise for Capricornus' first collection, the Opus musicum of 1655: "Your remarkable works have been passed on to me, and I have found them delightful".

Capricornus' oeuvre appears on only a few discs. The fact that Henning Wiegräbe has named his ensemble after Capricornus may raise expectations that he will give this composer the attention he deserves. This disc is a good start. It includes one piece from a printed edition and compositions which have been preserved in manuscript in libraries and archives. The scoring and the way Capricornus integrates voices and instruments is reminiscent of Schütz sacred concertos, especially his collections Symphoniae Sacrae. However, as Anselm Hartinger points out in the liner-notes, in Capricornus' concertos the instruments play a larger and more independent role than in those of Schütz. "A special quality of Samuel Capricornus's vocal concertos is to be found in the integration of extensive sinfonias, which far surpass the usually brief consort intonations of the Monteverdi and Schütz tradition in terms of expansiveness and intensity of motivic elaboration".

The instrumental scoring as such is another notable aspect of Capricornus' concertos. In Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt and Laetare Jerusalem in Domino the solo voices are supported by violin, sackbut and basso continuo. Gaudens gaudebo and Dixi Domino are solo concertos for bass and for soprano respectively; the instrumental scoring of both concertos is for violin, bassoon and basso continuo. Deus docuisti me has the most unusual scoring: soprano, bass, sackbut, bassoon and basso continuo. In comparison Ich hab den Herrn allezeit für Augen is rather conventional: soprano, bass, two violins and basso continuo.

The prominent role of sackbut and bassoon is reminiscent of the Italian music of the early 17th century: composers such as Fontana and Castello composed sonatas for such combinations of instruments. In Capricornus' time the scoring with two violins and basso continuo had become most common in sacred concertos for only a small number of voices. Sackbut and bassoon were, alongside the cornett, mostly used in large-scale concertos, such as those of Knüpfer or Schelle.

As one may expect in music by a German composer of the 17th century, the text is eloquently illustrated in the music. That is a token of the influence of the Italian style, with which Capricornus had especially become acquainted during his stay in Vienna, but is also attests to the influence of Schütz, who in this respect was a model for other composers. It therefore doesn't surprise that Capricornus explores the contrasts within a text, such as in Laetare Jerusalem, between the two ensuing phrases "all ye that mourn for her" and "rejoice for joy with her". In Deus docuisti me Capricornus explores the lowest register of the bass for the passage "the deep of the earth". Gaudens gaudebo includes brilliant figurations in the vocal part, inspired by the jubilant tenor of the text: "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God". In the centre is a recitativic episode. In Dixi Domino Capricornus creates a strong tension in that he dwells on the first half of the text: "I said unto the Lord". Only halfway (at 3'40") he moves to the second line: "Thou art my God".

Antonio Bertali was one of Capricornus' sources of inspiration, and therefore it was an excellent idea to include one of his sonatas. The Sonata à 3 is a brilliant piece for two violins, sackbut and basso continuo, which includes some quite strong contrasts, as one may expect in a piece, which adheres to the tradition of the stylus phantasticus. It also includes marked harmonic tension.

There is every reason to hope for more recordings of pieces by Capricornus from this ensemble, because here we get ideal interpretations. Lydia Teuscher and Philip Niederberger have everything that is needed for a convincing performance of 17th-century sacred concertos. They have very flexible voices, which is essential to realise the frequent coloratura in these concertos, they avoid vibrato and pay optimum attention to the text. The balance between the voices and the instruments is exactly right. The latter deliver impressive performances of the demanding instrumental parts. Capricornus could not have been served any better.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Capricornus Ensemble Stuttgart


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