musica Dei donum
"Glauben, Lieben, Hoffen" (Faith, Love, Hope)
Hans Wijers, bassa
rec: Oct 15 - 17, 2017, Berlin, Andreaskirche
Coviello Classics - COV 91814 (© 2018) (60'44")
Liner-notes: E/D; no lyrics
Cover & track-list
Johann Christoph BACH (1642-1703):
Wie bist du denn, o Gott, in Zorn auf mich entbrannta;
Dario CASTELLO (bef 1600 - 1644):
Sonata X à 3. 2 soprani e fagotto ;
Sonata XIII à 4. 2 soprani e 2 tromboni ;
Sonata XIV à 4. 2 soprani e 2 tromboni ;
Sonata XVI à 4. Per Stromenti d'Arco ;
Christian GEIST (c1650-1711):
Es war aber an der Stättea;
Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672):
Fili mi Absalon (SWV 269)a 
 Dario Castello, Sonate concertate in stil moderno per sonar nel organo overo spineta con diversi instrumenti, 1629;
 Heinrich Schütz, Symphoniae sacrae, [I], 1629
Christoph Timpe, Andreas Pfaff, violin;
Sarah Perl, Niklas Trüstedt, viola da gamba;
Martin Seemann, cello;
Mira Lange, harpsichord;
Peter Uehling, organ
The way the programme of the present disc has been put together, may raise questions. What have the sonatas by Dario Castello to do with the three German sacred works? Not very much, it seems, except that the second collection of Castello's sonatas was published in Venice in 1629, the same year Heinrich Schütz's Symphoniae Sacrae, from which Fili mi, Absalon is taken, came from the press that same year, also in Venice.
The title of this disc is inspired by a passage from St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians: "And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love" (I Cor 13, vs13). The first piece represents love. Fili mi Absalon by Heinrich Schütz is a settting of the lament of King David, when his son Absalon, who revolted against his father, was killed. "My son, Absalon, Absalon, my son. If only I had died in your place. Absalon, my son, Absalon". It is one of the most moving pieces from the first volume of the Symphoniae Sacrae, but it is also one of the most remarkable pieces because of its scoring for bass, four sackbuts and basso continuo. Carl Winterfeld, a musicologist of the 19th century, saw this piece as an expression of "the majesty of the holy singer and the heart-rending pain of the father". The scoring for sackbuts seems to emphasize the former aspect. From that perspective one may wonder whether their replacement by strings does justice to Schütz's intentions. That said, according to the information in New Grove and at the Petrucci Music Library, Schütz mentioned two violins as an alternative to two of the sackbuts. Even so, the performance of the two lowest parts on viole da gamba instead of sackbuts has a substantial effect on the impact of this piece. However, that is also due to Hans Wijers, who has a very fine voice, but lacks the weight of the likes of Harry van der Kamp and Wolf Matthias Friedrich.
Hope and faith are expressed in one of the most famous lamentos from 17th-century Germany, Wie bist du denn, o Gott, in Zorn auf mich entbrannt by Johann Christoph Bach. The protagonist expresses his sadness about God's wrath. It ends with a prayer: "My God, be no longer inflamed with wrath at me; let thine ire be transformed into loving kindness". The scoring is typical of lamentos of the time: violin, three viole da gamba and basso continuo. In this performance the third viol part is performed at the cello, which is debatable. Wijers sings it nicely; his diction is excellent and he is well aware of the content of this piece. But here again I feel that it just lacks a bit of depth. I also would have liked a more declamatory approach.
The last vocal work is by the little-known Christian Geist. He was born in Güstrow in Mecklenburg, and his first teacher was his father Joachim, who was Kantor at the cathedral school in Güstrow. He also was able to learn from the musicians active in the city at the time, like the Kapellmeister Daniel Danielis and the vice-Kapellmeister Augustin Pfleger. In 1669 he went to Copenhagen to broaden his horizon, but he wasn't able to find a job as a musician. In 1670 he went to Stockholm, where he became a member of the court chapel under Gustav Düben. But they didn't go along well, and in 1674 Geist tried to succeed Christoph Bernhard as director of church music in Hamburg, but to no avail. In 1679 he became organist of the German church in Gothenburg. The working conditions were bad: there was no money for additional musicians, and the organ was hardly usable. In addition he often didn't get paid. In 1684 he went to Copenhagen again, and succeeded the organist Martin Radeck, marrying his widow in the process. In 1711 he died of the bubonic plague, together with his third wife and all his children.
Although he was mainly working as an organist, only a few organ pieces have survived, and these are of doubtful authenticity. The remaining part of his extant oeuvre comprises vocal music, all sacred, except two secular works. Most of it dates from the 1670s, and is part of the so-called Düben collection in the library of Uppsala University. In his compositions he uses the various forms, which were in vogue in his time. Es war aber an der Stätte is written for Passiontide and tells about the burial of Jesus. One could say that this work reflects all three elements which St Paul mentions in the quotation given above. This piece begins with words from the gospel, and these are followed by a setting of the chorale 'O Traurigkeit! O Herzeleid!', containing chromatic descending figures. The piece is set for alto solo with 3 viole da gamba and bc. There is no fundamental objection against a performance of the vocal part one octave below notation. Wijers delivers a fine performance, and whereas the only other recording I have heard includes just four of the chorale's stanzas, we get all of them here. That is very praiseworthy. This is the item from the programme I am most satisfied with.
Not that there is much wrong with the instrumental pieces. Dario Castello was one of the main representatives of the seconda pratica and its translation to instrumental music. He was the director of the wind ensemble of San Marco, but that is as much as we know about him. Two collections of his music have been preserved. They were printed in 1621 and 1629 respectively, both in Venice, under the title of Sonate concertate in stil moderno per sonar nel organo overo spineta con diversi instrumenti and comprise 29 sonatas in total. The four sonatas included here are all from the second volume, which is not indicated in the track-list. The programme opens with the Sonata XVI à 4. It is a kind of battaglia, a genre which was to become quite popular during the 17th century. It is deliberately placed before Schütz's setting of David's lament. Sometimes Castello leaves the choice of instruments to the performers, but here he has specifically indicated "Per Stromenti d'Arco" (for strings). The Sonata X is scored for two violins and dulcian (fagotto), Sonata XIII and Sonata XIV for two treble instruments and two sackbuts (2 soprani e 2 tromboni). From this one may conclude that a performance with two violins in the upper parts is no problem, but the replacement of a sackbut by a viola da gamba does have an impact on the overall effect of these sonatas. That said, these sonatas are performed pretty well here.
To sum up, I am not entirely satisfied with this disc. The viole da gamba can not compensate for the lack of sackbuts in most of the items. Although the performances are mostly rather good, I am missing that little which makes me return to a disc.
Johan van Veen (© 2019)