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Organ and vocal music from northern Germany

[I] "Northern Baroque - Sweelinck, Buxtehude & Co."
Zsuzsi Töth, sopranoa
Fabien Moulaert, organ
rec: May 20 - 25, 2014, Hamburg, Sankt Jacobi Hauptkircheb; Dec 2, 2014, Hoogstraten, Sint-Catharinakerka
Coviello - COV 91504 (© 2015) (65'17")
Liner-notes: E/F/D; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list

Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Fried- und Freudenreiche Hinfahrt (BuxWV 76) (Klage Lied)a; Fugue in C (BuxWV 174)b; Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ (BuxWV 196)b; Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott (BuxWV 199)b; Passacaglia in d minor (BuxWV 161)b; Toccata in d minor (BuxWV 155)b; Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (c1595-1663): Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott (WV 4)b; Lobet den Herren, denn er ist sehr freundlich (WV 13)b; Praeambulum in g minor (WV 41)b; Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672): Eile mich, Gott, zu erretten (SWV 282)a [1]; O süßer, o freundlicher (SWV 285)a [1]; Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621): Est-ce Mars (SwWV 321)b; Fantasia in a minor 'Echo fantasia' (SwWV 275)b; Toccata in d minor (SwWV 286)b

[1] Heinrich Schütz, Kleine Geistliche Konzerte, I, 1636

[II] Franz TUNDER (1614/15 - 1667): "Vocal and organ music"
Ulrike Hofbauer, sopranoa; Markus Flaig, bassb; Arvid Gast, organc; La dolcezzad
rec: August 28 - 30, 2013, Lübeck, Jakobikirche
Querstand - VKJK 1407 (© 2014) (73'40")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: D
Cover & track-list

Ach Herr, lass deine lieben Engeleinad; An Wasserflüssen Babylonad; Auf meinen lieben Gott (B.7)c; Canzona in G (B.6)c; Da mihi Dominebd; Ein kleines Kindeleinad; Jesus Christus, unser Heiland (B.11)c; Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott (B.13)c; O Jesu dulcissimebd; Praeludium in F (B.1)c; Praeludium in g minor (B.2)c; Praeludium in g minor (B.3)c; Salve coelestis paterbd; Wachet auf! ruft uns die Stimmead

Veronika Skuplik, Maite Larburu, Cathi Aglibuth, Dasa Valentova, violin, viola; Matthias Müller, viola da gamba, violone; Michael Fuerst, organ

These two discs bring us to two cities which belonged to the musical centres of northern Germany in the 17th century: Lübeck and Hamburg. In the former Franz Tunder worked as organist from 1641 to 1667; in the latter year he was succeeded by Dietrich Buxtehude. Heinrich Scheidemann was organist in Hamburg from at least 1629 until 1663 when he died of the plague. These three composers belong to the renowned north German organ school which has produced some of the most brilliant organ music of the 17th century.

With Scheidemann and Buxtehude Fabien Moulaert marks the beginning and the end of the north German organ school. Scheidemann is generally considered one of the founders of that school. However, Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck can also be considered one of its founding fathers, even though he was Dutch, worked as an organist in Amsterdam most of his life and very likely never visited Germany. However, many German organists went to Amsterdam to study with him, and one of them was Heinrich Scheidemann. He was in Amsterdam from 1611 to 1614 and when he left Sweelinck dedicated a canon to him.

The programme opens with the Toccata in d minor by Sweelinck which represents the older type of Italian toccata; north German composers mostly based their toccatas on the early baroque stylus phantasticus. It is in the next piece, the Fantasia in a minor, known as Echo fantasia that we find one of the features which was embraced by north German composers: in his chorale variation Lobet den Herren, denn er ist sehr freundlich Scheidemann makes use of the echo technique. Sweelinck's Est-ce Mars is an example of the influence of the English virginalists in Sweelinck's keyboard music, especially in the realm of variations on secular tunes which were written for the harpsichord or virginal in the first place. Some of that influence is notable in the way north German composers treated sacred chorales as they often added ornamentation to the cantus firmus. Scheidemann played a key role in this development: his two varations on Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott are brilliant examples of his art. The Praeambulum in g minor is a short piece, one of the twelve pieces of this kind which have been preserved. They usually include a fugal section, and here we find the root of the prelude and fugue which would take such an important place in German organ music from the late 17th century onwards.

The three praeludia from Tunder's pen - four have come down to us complete, one in fragmentary form - follow the model of Scheidemann, whose music Tunder certainly knew. He was a good friend of Matthias Weckmann who from 1655 until his death in 1674 was organist of the Jacobikirche in Hamburg. His arrangements of chorales also show some of the characteristics of Scheidemann's in the ornamentation of the cantus firmus. However, Tunder was also strongly influenced by the monodic style in Italian vocal music. That also comes to the fore in his own vocal compositions.

These were probably written for the Abendmusiken he had founded; the first of these is documented for 1646. According to the then Kantor Caspar Ruetz "before proceeding to do business, people had the laudable habit of gathering in the Marienkirche, where the organist [Tunder] would often play something on the organ for their pleasure, to pass the time and to make himself popular with the populace at large. This was very well received and many rich folk who were also lovers of music rewarded him with gifts. Thus encouraged, the organist began to add a few violins, then some singers, finally arriving at large-scale performances that were held on Sundays as we have already stated, after Trinity and throughout Advent".

The Italian monodic style comes especially to the fore in the sacred concertos on Latin texts. Tunder has set them in a very expressive way, giving full attention to the text. These pieces also include quite a lot of coloratura and the vocal part moves up and down through the scale which requires a very agile voice. Most pieces on German texts take the form of a chorale arrangement. The voice sings the chorale melody, mostly ornamented, whereas the strings add contrapuntal voices, much like the organ would do in organ chorales. The melodies are treated differently: in Ach Herr, lass deine lieben Engelein Tunder takes more freedom towards the chorale melody than in Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme.

The choice of vocal pieces in Fabien Moulaert's recording is a bit odd. Heinrich Schütz was not an organist and had no formal connection to the north German organ school. The only connection is the fact that the above-mentioned Matthias Weckmann was his pupil. From a strictly stylistic point of view one could see a connection in that Schütz' Kleine Geistliche Konzerte are founded on the principle of music as speech: in his sacred concertos we find the same features as in Tunder's. But if Moulaert wanted to include some vocal music he could have taken some of the sacred songs for voice and basso continuo by Scheidemann which were included in various collections edited by Johann Rist. This part of his oeuvre is even more seldom performed than his organ music. In comparison the inclusion of Buxtehude's Klage Lied makes much more sense than the pieces by Schütz. However, it is regrettable that - as in so many recordings - it is not performed complete: Zsuzsi Tóth only sings three stanzas.

That piece ends the programme. Before that Moulaert plays five of Buxtehude's organ works. He is one of the most frequently performed composers of the north German organ school but even so I believe that Moulaert could have made a less predictable choice. The pieces he has chosen belong to the best-known from Buxtehude's oeuvre. The Toccata in d minor is a typical specimen of the stylus phantasticus as it is a sequence of short contrasting sections including a fugue. The Fugue in C is an early example of an independent fugue which was to become a common genre after the turn of the century. In the two chorale arrangements the cantus firmus is highly ornamented. The Passacaille in d minor is one of many pieces based on a basso ostinato which were written in the 17th century. It was one of the favourite forms across Europe.

The performances on both recordings are generally very good. The only disappointing part of Moulaert's recording is the Sweelinck. Here I find his articulation not sharp enough, and Moulaert should have taken more breathing spaces. These performances are just too straightforward. The Buxtehude pieces are familiar but Moulaert's performances are as good as any I have heard. I like especially the relatively swift tempi in the passacaglia and the fugue. Zsuzsi Tóth delivers fine performances of the concertos by Schütz and her interpretation of Buxtehude's Klag-Lied is quite moving.

Arvid Gast and La dolcezza have delivered an interesting portrait of Tunder. The mixture of vocal and organ pieces works well. Arvid Gast plays the organ works beautifully and pays much attention to the contrasts within single pieces. Ulrike Hofbauer and Markus Flaig are experienced interpreters of German 17th-century music. The delivery is outstanding: every word is clearly audible, even without reading the lyrics in the booklet. They have no problems with the written-out coloratura and add some stylish ornamentation of their own: not too much, just right.

On the production level both discs leave something to be desired. The Coviello disc omits all catalogue numbers; I have added them in the header. The Querstand disc includes two preludes in g minor but fails to identify them. I have again added that information in the header. One also has to look very carefully to find the names of the individual performers. They should have been mentioned separately in the booklet. The track-list is also not very informative: only the titles are mentioned but not the scoring and the names of the soloists.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Markus Flaig
Ulrike Hofbauer
Fabien Moulaert
Zsuzsi Tóth

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