musica Dei donum
"A Hanseatic Festival - German Renaissance Music"
Mark Chambersa, alto
The English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble
rec: (©) 2004, All Saints's Church, East Finchley, London & St Mary's Church, South Creoke, UK
Deux Elles – DXL 1088 (60'00")
Heinrich Albert: Bekehrung zum Herren Christoa;
Michael Altenburg/Michael Praetorius/Keith Gowan: Ein wunderschönes Kindeleina;
Georg Leopold Fuhrmann: Entrata; Galliarda;
Elias Mertelius: Cancio Germanica;
Michael Praetorius/Samuel Scheidt/Keith Gowan: In dulci jubilo;
Samuel Scheidt: Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein;
Canzon super O Nachbar Roland;
(arr Keith Gowan): Nun komm der Heiden Heilanda;
Vom Himmel hocha;
Melchior Schildt: Paduana Lachrymae;
Johan Schop: Das alt ist abgegangena;
Thomas Simpson: Pasameza; Ricercar super Bonny Sweet Robin
Keith McGowan, recorder, alto, bass & quint-bass dulcian;
William Lyons, recorder, bombard, bass dulcian;
Fiona Russell, Adrian Woodward, cornett;
Abigail Newman, alto & tenor sackbut;
Tom Lees, tenor sackbut;
Adrian France, tenor & bass sackbut;
Matthew Wadsworth, theorbo, lute;
James Johnstone, harpsichord, organ
This disc concentrates on repertoire which was played in North-German cities by the Stadtpfeifer. These were musicians who were contracted by the local authorities to play music at official celebrations, festival parades, royal visits and civic weddings and baptisms. They also participated in church services and church and school festivities. It was a much sought-after job, which guaranteed a reasonable income, even though they didn't earn as much as the organists and Kantors in church. Additional incomes could come from performances for private people. They could even be hired when someone wanted to bring a serenade to a loved one.
Two things are characteristic for the Stadtpfeifer. First of all, they played more than one instrument: the music the Stadtpfeifer played was mostly composed for wind instruments, like cornet, sackbut and dulcian, and the musicians usually played more than one of these, sometimes even the violin as well. Secondly, they were technically very skilled, as the pieces recorded here prove. The music they used to play certainly wasn't easy stuff. And before someone could become a Stadtpfeifer, he had to prove his capabilities in an exam, which could include sight-reading.
Therefore it can't surprise that many highly respected musicians and composers of the 17th and 18th centuries began their careers as Stadtpfeifer, or were born in families of this kind of musicians. No less than Johann Sebastian Bach came from such a family, and the famous trumpeter Gottfried Reiche, for whom Bach composed some of his most ambitious trumpet parts, was a Stadtpfeifer himself. The Stadtpfeifer also played an important role in musical education, which was taken over by the conservatories after the French Revolution.
This disc presents some typical examples of music which could have been played by the Stadtpfeifer, and like them some of the players on this disc play more than one instrument. The title is misleading: most of the composers represented in the programme stylistically belong to the Baroque period rather than the Renaissance. Is that the reason the dates of birth and death of the composers are omitted in the tracklist?
It seems most sacred concertos here are related to Christmas (Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, Vom Himmel hoch) or the turn of the year (Das alt ist abgegangen). Whether Heinrich Albert's 'Bekehrung zum Herren Christo' was composed for this time of the year as well is impossible to say: I have never heard that piece before, the booklet doesn't give the lyrics of the vocal items, and the text is barely audible, as the rather soft voice of Mark Chambers is overpowered by the wind instruments. The part seems to be too high for him anyway, as his voice sounds stressed on the top notes.
In those pieces where he is supported by lute only, like the sacred concerto by Johann Schop, it is easier to understand the text. Here it is revealed that his German pronunciation is reasonable, but certainly not impeccable. The articulation also leaves something to be desired.
That is a general problem of this recording. The disc opens with one of the most famous pieces of the North-German Baroque, Samuel Scheidt's Canzon super O Nachbar Roland. The performance is too pale, and there is a lack of differentiation in articulation and dynamics, and it doesn't really swing as it should. Some of the readers of this review may be acquainted with the interpretation of this piece by Hespèrion XX. If so, just listen how they play this piece and bring it to life.
Some other pieces are realised better, for instance the Paduan by Scheidt, with its dialogue between high and low instruments. An example of the more intimate repertoire the Stadtpfeifer played is Simpson's Ricercar super Bonny Sweet Robin, which is performed here on two recorders with basso continuo.
The disc also contains some pieces which didn't belong to the repertoire of the Stadtpfeifer, like the lute pieces and Schildt's Paduana Lachrymae, which is played on the harpsichord.
In my view a lot more could have been made of this repertoire. This recording isn't really satisfying, which is particularly disappointing, as a number of pieces are not frequently performed, like the works by Fuhrmann and Mertelius. And as informative as the programme notes by Keith McGowan are, much more should have been made of the booklet as well. Not only the lyrics of the vocal items are missing, there is no reference to which instrument is playing in which piece, nor the sources of the music, nor is there any information about the composers.
The tracklist is also confusing: nowhere is explained what the addition Argentinensis to Mertelius' name refers to. And who is the Praetorius whose music is played here: Hieronymus, Jacob or Michael? It must be Michael, but the booklet should have been more precise. And in tracks 13 and 15 two German composers are listed, as well as Keith McGowan. But what exactly did he do: arrange, or even compose? It is anybody's guess.
Johan van Veen (© 2005)