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Thomas SELLE (1599 - 1663): Concertuum Latino Sacrorum, Liber Primus

Kerstin Dietl, soprano; Benjamin Boresch, Johannes Eulerab; alto; Pablo Helmbolda, Goetz Phillip Körnerb, tenor; Janno Scheller, bass
Göttinger Barockorchester
Dir: Antonius Adamske

rec: Sept 2 - 5, 2021, Bücken, Stiftskirche St. Materniani & St. Nicolai
Coviello Classics - COV92302 (© 2022) (61'05")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Beatus qui miseretur; Cantate Domino; Confitebor tibi Domine; Domine exaudi orationem meam; Ecce nunc benedicite; Ecce quam bonum; Ecce quomodo moriturb; Missaa; Non mortui laudabunt te Domine; Jubilate Deo omnis terra; Veni Domine et noli tardare

Monika Mandelartz, recorder, harp; Davide Monti, Paul Bialek, violin; Alma Stolte, Sofia Diniz, Jenny Westman, viola da gamba; Laura Frey, violone; Sebastian Lauckner, dulcian; Petra Burmann, lute; Antonius Adamske, harpsichord, organ; Karsten Krüger, organ

Hamburg was one of Germany's main musical centres in the second half of the 17th century. This was the result of excellent musicians working in the city, both in the church and in the opera. The three musicians who played a central role in church music were the organist Heinrich Scheidemann, the violinist Johann Schop and the Musikdirektor Thomas Selle. The organ works of Scheidemann are relatively well represented on disc, but so far the compositions of the other two are hardly explored. Therefore each disc devoted to sacred works of Selle is most welcome. It is a good sign that in recent years several recordings of his oeuvre have been released.

Selle's early years are relatively poorly documented. He was born in Zörbig in Saxonia, and probably went to the Thomasschule in Leipzig, and then to the university. It is likely he was acquainted with or even a pupil of Sethus Calvisius, choirmaster of the Thomasschule, and his successor Johann Hermann Schein. From 1624 to 1641 he held several positions in the duchy of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf. The position of church and city music director in Hamburg was a prestigious one, and the fact that he was appointed as such is an indication of his reputation. This is confirmed by the laudation of the senior of the local pastorate, calling him "a man who is very learned and excellently versed in the Muses".

His oeuvre has been preserved relatively well, which is due to the fact that during his life he put those pieces he considered his most substantial, together in 16 partbooks and three volumes of tablature. He also made sure that his oeuvre was preserved in that well before his death he donated the greatest part of his output to the Hamburg State Library. The first volume of his Opera omnia is a reprint of the collection Concertuum Latino Sacrorum Liber Primus, which was published in 1646, but includes one additional piece. Antonius Adamske recorded the 1646 edition, but also the additional piece from the Opera omnia. The collection is dedicated to Hamburg dignitaries. In his preface Selle writes: "I have compiled this work in Latin, a foretaste of all the motets and concerti, of which I have a great number under my roof, and had them printed at my own expense, and humbly dedicated the printed work, my lords and benefactors, to your names that you might accept it". No further volumes have been published; the reasons are not known.

The 1646 edition included ten pieces, which are ordered according to the number of parts, from two to five. All the pieces are settings of texts from the Book of Psalms, sometimes with additional verses from other Old Testament books. This was common practice in Lutheran Germany: for Luther the Book of Psalms was a little Bible, and psalms played a key role in the liturgy. The only exception in the collection is the mass, which - again according to Lutheran habit - consists only of Kyrie and Gloria. Here Selle links up with the renaissance tradition of writing parody masses: this mass is based on his own motet Sei mir gnädig, which he included in funeral music.

As one may expect, these settings include a number of rhetorical devices, which were used to illustrate words and phrases. In Veni Domine, solo voices dwell on the first words with coloratura - a way to emphasize their importance and to draw attention to them: "Come, Lord!" In Beatus, qui miseretur egeni et pauperis, the first line includes a contrast between the first word and the following phrase: "Blessed is he - that shows mercy to the weak and poor"; the latter words are decisive for the way the phrase is set. In Domine, exaudi the word "invocavero" (I shall call) is repeated to express its urgency. The last line - "Answer me quickly" - is eloquently set to a speedy tempo. Echo effects were quite popular in the 17th century, and Selle incorporates them into Jubilate Deo. The first two lines are used as a ritornello. It is no surprise to note extended coloratura on the words "laetabor et exsultabo" (I will be glad and rejoice). In Cantate Domino vocal phrases are repeated instrumentally.

And that brings us to the issue of performance practice. Juliane Pöche, in her liner-notes, states that Selle offers different ways of performing his music. "Parts can be added or left out as needed, transposed or given to another voice or instrument without this affecting the essence of the composition. In the print Concertuum Latino-sacrorum, too, various possibilities for pieces with only a few parts are included: differering numbers of parts, varying compositional techniques, different options for accompanying instruments, - an entire continuum presenting the maximum diversity of facets, which Selle displays from the outset the greatest possible spectrum of his creative achievements". Unfortunately the performance practice applied here is not discussed in the booklet, neither in general nor with regard to particular pieces. To return to the instrumental repetition of vocal phrases in Cantate Domino, mentioned above, I would like to know whether this is indicated in the score or the result of the interpretational freedom the performers have allowed themselves. I also miss an indication of the line-up in every single piece.

The singers and instrumentalists do an excellent job. I really like the way the singers deal with the material and their treatment of the text. There is one not unimportant issue, though: the balance between the voices is less than ideal. Kerstin Dietl is an excellent singer and I like her voice a lot, but she tends to be quite dominant; too often the alto and bass are overshadowed. Sometimes a piece seems to be written for soprano solo with accompaniment of other voices, for instance Ecce quomodo moritur.

Even so, I strongly recommend this disc, as Selle's music is better than the authors in New Grove suggest, and this disc is a further step towards a rediscovery of a composer who is still awaiting the appreciation he deserves. The performances under the direction of Antonius Adamske should help.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

Relevant links:

Benjamin Boresch
Kerstin Dietl
Johannes Euler
Goetz Phillip Körner
Janno Scheller
Göttinger Barockorchester

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