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"Ich bin die Auferstehung - Buxtehude and His Copenhagen Connections"

Jakob Bloch Jespersen, bass-baritonea
Concerto Copenhagen
Dir: Lars Ulrik Mortensen

rec: Nov 2018, Copenhagen, Trinitatiskirke & Garnisonskirke
Dacapo - 6.220651 (© 2020) (66'44")
Liner-notes: E/DK; lyrics - translations: E/DK
Cover, track-list & booklet

Nicolaus BRUHNS (1665-1697): Mein Herz ist bereitab; Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Ich bin die Auferstehung und das Leben (BuxWV 44)a; Johann Balthasar ERBEN (1626-1686): Sonata sopra Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la; Kaspar FÖRSTER (1616-1673): Jesu dulcis memoriaa; Sonata à 7; Andreas KIRCHHOFF (?-1691): Sonata à 6; Johann Valentin MEDER (1649-1719): Gott hilf mira; Matthias WECKMANN (1619-1674): Kommet her zu mir; Toccata in a minorc

Robert Farley, Christopher Pigram, trumpet; Gawain Glenton, Josue Melendez, cornett; Jane Gower, dulcian; Fredrik From (solob), Hannah Tibell, violin; Antina Hugosson, Balic Zunic, violin, viola; Hanna Thiel, Hanna Loftsdóttir, viola da gamba; Heidi Gröger, viola da gamba, violone; Lars Ulrik Mortensen, harpsichord (soloc), organ

There are only few recordings of German music of the 17th century that don't include any pieces from the so-called Düben Collection. The present disc is not one of them. Gustav Düben (c1628 - 1690) was a member of a musical family. His father, Andreas, was born in Leipzig, studied with Sweelinck in Amsterdam and entered the service of the Swedish court in 1620. In 1640 he was appointed conductor of the court orchestra. Gustav received his first musical education from his father, and then studied in Germany for some years. After his return to Stockholm he became a member of the court orchestra in 1648. In 1663 he inherited his father's positions as conductor and as organist of the German church. Although he has composed some music, mainly songs for voice and basso continuo, he has become best-known for his collection of music.

This source contains about 2,500 handwritten works and more than 120 printed pieces. Both vocal and instrumental music is represented. Although there are some secular works, the largest part of the vocal music is religious. The collection reflects the needs of the royal court, but there are also some compositions which seem to be more suitable for the liturgical practice in the German church in Stockholm. It is no exaggeration to state that without this source our knowledge of German 17th-century music would be far more limited than is the case now. Many pieces are not known from any other source, and that goes in particular for many vocal works from the pen of Dieterich Buxtehude, who seems to have had a special relationship with Düben. The famous cantata cycle Membra Jesu nostri is Buxtehude's best-known work in the collection. The programme recorded by Jakob Bloch Jespersen and Concerto Copenhagen opens with one of his cantatas. In a way that is a bit odd, as he is one of the last representatives of the music of the 17th century. In his oeuvre we already meet traces of what was to come in the next century. The cantata Ich bin die Auferstehung is an example, as its central message - "[the one who believes in me] will live, even though they die" - is set in the form of a recitative, which is a way to single it out and give it special emphasis.

Johann Valentin Meder is a contemporary of his, and in his oeuvre we also see a mixture of old and new elements. Gott hilf mir is an example of a sacred concerto in the style of the 17th century. It a setting of verses from Psalm 69, for bass, strings and basso continuo. The solo part goes to the very bottom of the singer's range on the phrase "Ich versinke in tiefen Schlamm" (I sink in deep mire), which is followed by a pause. This piece also ends suddenly, again reflecting the last phrase: "hear me speedily". "Those who set at the gate mock me" is vividly depicted in the vocal and in the instrumental parts. In this setting, the strings play an important role in depicting the text, for instance with tremolos.

Many German composers of the 17th century were strongly influenced by the Italian style. Several of them spent some time in Italy, such as Kaspar Förster, who was born in Danzig, and died near that city, but in between led an eventful life, which brought him to Italy - where he was a pupil of Carissimi - and Copenhagen. As a bass singer, he was renowned for his wide tessitura, spanning three octaves. The sacred concerto Jesu dulcis memoria, whose text is often, including in the liner-notes to the present disc, (erroneously) attributed to Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (the author was probably an English member of the Order of the Cistercians) and is a typical specimen of medieval mysticism, may well have been intended for his own performance. Förster creates a strong contrast between the last two lines: "noble conqueror" vs "unutterable sweetness". The instrumental scoring is typical for Italian sacred concertos of the time: two violins and basso continuo.

Matthias Weckmann, on the other hand, was never in Italy, but was very well acquainted with the developments in Italian music, as is documented by his copies of pieces from Claudio Monteverdi's Selva morale e spirituale. His sacred concerto Kommet her zu mir, a setting of Jesus's words as quoted in Matthew 11 (vs 28-30), is a perfect example, as here he makes use of the stile concitato. He sets several words to extended coloratura, such as "beladen" (burdened). "You will find rest for your souls" is set to long notes, creating an atmosphere of peace and quiet. In the closing line - "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light" - Weckmann explores the higher register of the bass voice.

Nicolaus Bruhns was also never in Italy, and he was educated as an organist - his organ works are the best-known part of his oeuvre - as well as on the violin and the viola da gamba. The German composer and theorist Johann Mattheson reported that Bruhns sometimes played both instruments at the same time: while playing the violin he realized the basso continuo part on the pedal of the organ. For some years he worked as a composer and violinist at the court in Copenhagen. In 1689 he was appointed organist of the Stadtkirche in Husum. It was stated that "never before (...) [had] the city heard his like in composition and performance on all manner of instruments". Mein Herz ist bereit may be well one of those pieces in which he performed the virtuosic violin part as well as the basso continuo at the organ. The violin part is technically demanding, including double stopping and virtuosic figurations. This piece is comparable with, for instance, the concerto Nisi Dominus by Bruhns's contemporary Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber.

In addition to the vocal items we hear some instrumental pieces, which are partly taken from the Düben Collection. Johann Balthasar Erben was Meder's predecessor as Kapellmeister of the Marienkirche in Danzig (where he succeeded Kaspar Förster's father). His Sonata sopra Ut, re, mi, fa, sol, la takes the hexachord as its subject, which was quite popular during the late renaissance and early baroque periods. Kaspar Förster's Sonata à 7, one of the first recordings on this disc, is for winds and strings, and written in the Venetian tradition. With its sequence of contrasting sections it is a typical exponent of the stylus phantasticus. That also goes for the Sonata à 6 by Andreas Kirchhoff, another premiere on disc. Unfortunately, the identity of the composer is hard to establish. Jespersen, in his liner-notes, suggests that he may the Andreas Kirchhoff who became a civic musician in Copenhagen in 1679. Apart from his being mentioned in a book of 1687, nothing is known about him. The scoring for three violins and two viole da gamba is notable. Lastly, the Toccata in a minor once again bears witness of Weckmann's acquaintance with the Italian style. It is written in the tradition established by Girolamo Frescobaldi, which had been introduced in Germany by Johann Jacob Froberger.

Most of the pieces included here are available in other recordings. The exceptions are the two instrumental items I mentioned above. When this recording took place, Förster's concerto Jesu dulcis memoria was also a first recording, but since then Dominik Wörner recorded it with the Kirchheimer DübenConsort. The concertos by Bruhns and Weckmann and Buxtehude's cantatas are pretty well-known. This means that this disc has to compete with others, and I am not sure that it comes out as a winner. Jespersen's assets are his articulation and diction, which are excellent and make sure that the coloratura passages come off rather well. His German pronunciation is good, but not perfect ("Wollauf" - Bruhns). I don't like his voice very much, but that is obviously very personal and subjective. What is disappointing, is his incessant, though small, vibrato, which I to some extent got used to in the course of the programme, but which I still don't like and object to. Problematic is that the lowest notes, especially in Meder's Gott hilf mir are too weak, despite the fact that the performers have - rightly - opted for a pitch of a=c465 Hz, known is Germany as Chorton. Jespersen's higher register is much better developed, as he shows in Weckmann's Kommt her zu mir. The instrumental contributions are excellent.

On a technical note: 'Ecclesiastical concerto' in the English translation of Jespersen's Danish liner-notes is not the correct translation of gejstlige concert; it is rather 'sacred concerto', not only because that is the commonly used term, but also because such pieces could not only be performed in church, but also at other occasions, for instance as Tafelmusik.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

Jakob Bloch Jespersen
Concerto Copenhagen

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