musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"In convertendo - Sacred music from the Düben Collection"

Abendmusiken Basel
Dir: Jörg-Andreas Bötticher

rec: Sept 11 - 14, 2017, Müllheim (Baden, D), Martinskirche
Coviello Classics - COV91733 (© 2017) (63'25")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Vincenzo ALBRICI (1631-1696?): In convertendo; anon: Domine ne in furore; Was betrübst du dich a 5; Christoph BERNHARD (1628-1692): Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht [1]; Antonio BERTALI (1605-1669): Sonate 6 a 5; Gustav DÜBEN (1628-1690): Sinfonia a 4 con Cimbalo è Spinetto; Balthasar ERBEN (1626-1686): O Domine Jesu Christi a 4; Marin MARAIS (1656-1728): Lamento [Plainte] [2]; Johann Martin RADECK (c1623-1684): Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe; Nicolaus Adam STRUNGK (1640-1700): Sonata a 6; Johann VIERDANCK (c1605-1646): Der Herr hat seinen Engeln befohlen a 9

Sources: [1] Christoph Bernhard, Geistlicher Harmonien erster Theil, 1665 [1]; [2] Marin Marais, Pièces en trio, 1692

Ulrike Hofbauer, Jessica Jans, soprano; Alex Potter, alto; Jakob Pilgram, Raphael Höhn, ; Dominik Wörner, bass; Liane Ehrlich, recorder; Katharina Bopp, recorder, viola; Bork-Frithjof Smith, Josué Meléndez Peláez, cornett; Catherine Motuz, Claire McIntyre, David Yacus, sackbut; Krzysztof Lewandowski, dulcian; Regula Keller, Plamena Nikitassova, violin; Brian Franklin, Tore Eketorp, viola da gamba; Ján Krigovský, violone; Matthias Spaeter, theorbo; Jörg-Andreas Bötticher, Nicola Cumer, harpsichord, organ

The so-called Düben Collection, which is part of the library of Uppsala University, is one of the main sources of German music from the 17th century. A large number of vocal and instrumental works have only come down to us thanks to the collector's mania of Gustav Düben (1628-1690), who in 1648 became a member of the Swedish court orchestra and succeeded his father Andreas as conductor and organist of the German Church in Stockholm in 1663. In particular for many works by Dieterich Buxtehude the Düben Collection is the only source, as it seems that they had a special relationship. However, the collection has more to offer than German music: it also includes pieces by Italian and French masters as well as by composers who worked at the Habsburg court in Vienna. This suggests that music life in Stockholm was very versatile and Düben had a good feeling for what was worth being preserved.

The present disc offers eleven pieces from the collection. I have not found some kind of thread in the programme; it seems to have been put together more or less at random. However, the main focus is on sacred and instrumental works from the second half of the 17th century. Peter Wollny, in his liner-notes, rightly states that "[ensemble] music between Schütz and Bach, an area long neglected by both scholarship and practice, time and again proves to be an almost inexhaustible treasure trove of skilfully crafted, expressive compositions that even today have lost none of their original fascination". This disc proves him right.

The programme opens with In convertendo, a setting of Psalm 125 (126) by Vincenzo Albrici, who was from Italy and entered the service of Queen Christina of Sweden in 1652. When she converted to Catholicism, abdicated the throne and moved to Rome in 1654, Albrici went to Germany, where he worked at several places, but mostly in Dresden, taking over some of the duties of the ageing Heinrich Schütz. From 1676 to 1680 he occupied the post of Kapellmeister there. In convertendo is included in two different versions in the Düben Collection. The first, for voices, two violins and basso continuo, dates from Albrici's Stockholm period. The version performed here seems to date from his time in Dresden and is in five solo parts, with four-part tutti and an instrumental ensemble of strings and winds. There is a continous contrast between soli and tutti; it is performed here with solo voices, but the manuscript refers to a capella à 4, a common phenomenon in Dresden, which we also observe in many of Schütz's works. It would have made this work even more impressive.

Next follows the Sinfonia à 4 by Düben himself. Only a relatively few number of compositions from his pen are known. This sinfonia is especially interesting for its texture: it includes some episodes in which the score only provides the basso continuo, over which the various instruments of the ensemble are required to improvise: two violins, viola da gamba, harpsichord and spinet. As the ensemble only includes a harpsichord, it seems that the role of the spinet is taken here by the theorbo.

A large number of pieces in the collection don't mention the name of the composer. One of them is the sacred concerto Was betrübst du dich, a setting of the 5th verse from Psalm 43 in the translation of Martin Luther. It is scored for a solo voice (alto), four instruments and bc. It is taken from a volume of tablature, dated 1664. Wollny suggests that it could be a composition of Matthias Weckmann, especially because of the similarity with other vocal pieces by him. As one may expect in a German sacred work no opportunity is missed to illustrate the text; here in particular the treatment of the word "unruhig" (disquieted) is notable.

Nicolaus Adam Strungk is mostly associated with Leipzig, where he was the director of the opera. He was educated at the violin in Lübeck, and here his Sonata a 6 may have been written. It has a scoring which is typical of German 17th-century music: two violins, viola, two viole da gamba and bc. It includes some unusual harmonic progressions.

Another anonymous piece is Domine ne in furore, a setting of Psalm 6, one of the penitential psalms, which were especially sung during Lent. Wollny suggests that it could be a composition of Sebastian Knüpfer, who from 1657 until his death was Thomaskantor in Leipzig. He mentions that this piece is in a minor, like Knüpfer's setting of Psalm 130 (De profundis clamavi). "The two works perhaps represent fragments of an early cycle of penitential psalms". The scoring is again in line with German tradition: six voices, two violins, two viole da gamba and bc. It is full of text illustration, such as in the last section: "I am weary of my groaning; all the night make I my bed to swim" (King James Version, 1611).

Christoph Bernhard was one of Schütz's main pupils. In 1663 he was appointed Musikdirektor in Hamburg as a successor to Johann Schelle. The collection Geistliche Harmonien, from which Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht is taken, was dedicated to the Hamburg city authorities. In 1674 he returned to Dresden, where he took up his old job of vice-Kapellmeister. In 1681 he was appointed Kapellmeister, as a successor to Albrici, a position he held until his death. This sacred concerto is scored for soprano, bass and bc; counterpoint and a declamatory setting of the text go hand in hand here.

Johann Martin Radeck was probably from Mühlhausen and worked for most of his life in Denmark; in 1660 he became organist in Copenhagen. Only three compositions by him have been preserved, among them the sacred concerto Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe, a setting of the verses 25 and 26 from Psalm 73. It is scored for tenor, two violins, viola da gamba and bc. It is notable that the instrumental introduction, called sonata, takes about a third of the entire piece. Wollny sees a similarity with the vocal oeuvre of Buxtehude, who may have been a pupil of Radeck.

The Sonata 6 a 5 by Antonio Bertali attests to the wide scope of the Düben Collection: in 1624 he entered the service of the Habsburg court in Vienna, and from 1649 until his death he acted there as Kapellmeister. This sonata is the last of a set of six; it is scored for two cornetts and three sackbuts, which Bertali treats here as different groups, which get involved in a dialogue.

A remarkable piece is the sacred concerto O Domine Jesu Christi by Balthasar Erben, a little-known composer (not mentioned in New Grove), who acted as Kapellmeister in Danzig. Wollny describes the piece as a "harmonic labyrinth that leads the listener from F minor to the regions of F-sharp major." He suggests that these harmonic experiments may be the result of his visit to Italy. "Could Erben have received the stimulus for this work while attending a musical gathering in the Palazzo of Rome's Barberini family, where a group of musicians and scholars who endeavoured to revive the ancient Greek music and the three ancient modes - diatonic, chromatic, and enharmonic - met on a regular basis?"

This piece is followed by an instrumental work with the title Lamento, scored for two instruments and bc; it is played here with two recorders and two violins. The name of the composer is not mentioned, but it has been discovered that it is part of Marin Marais' Pièces en trio, printed in Paris in 1692. It bears witness of the popularity of the French style at the Stockholm court since the 1680s.

The disc closes with the earliest piece in the programme. Der Herr hat seinen Engeln befohlen is a setting of the verses 11 to 16 from Psalm 91: "For he shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways". Wollny sees a similarity between this piece by Johann Vierdanck and the works of Heinrich Schütz, especially his Psalmen Davids. It is in nine parts: four voices, two violins and three sackbuts. The interpreters have taken the freedom to add other instruments: two recorders, two cornetts and two viole da gamba. In this piece the tutti sections are alternating with passages for solo voices. The doxology is for tenor solo a cappella; the closing phrase (world without end. Amen) is scored for the entire ensemble.

It brings to a close a very compelling programme of music of high quality, very different in character, and therefore of great variety. It is a testimony to the level of composing and music making in 17th-century Europe, and in particular Germany. It is also a substantial addition to the discography: no fewer than seven of the 11 pieces appear on disc for the very first time. The interpreters are specialists in this kind of repertoire, and this results in completely idiomatic performances. Moments which deserve particular attention, especially in the realm of text expression, are effectively highlighted with stylistically convincing means. Among the singers Ulrike Hofbauer, Alex Potter and Dominik Wörner stand out. The booklet is exemplary: it not only includes informative liner-notes as well as the lyrics in German and English, it is also mentioned where in the Düben Collection a particular piece can be found and what the original scoring is.

In short, this is an important disc which lovers of 17th-century music should add to their collection.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Abendmusiken Basel

CD Reviews