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Matthias WECKMANN (1616? - 1674): "Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste"

Cantus Cölln, Concerto Palatinoa
Dir: Konrad Junghänel

rec: Oct 2008, Mandelsloh, Kirche St. Osdag
Harmonia mundi - HMC 902034 (© 2010) (77'56")

Canzon IIa; Canzon IXa; Der Tod ist verschlungen in den Sieg; Gegrüßet seist Du, Holdselige; Kommet her zu mir; Weine nicht; Wenn der Herr die Gefangnen zu Zion erlösen wird; Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste; Zion spricht: der Herr hat mich verlassen

[CC] Johanna Koslowsky, soprano; Alexander Schneider, alto; Hans Jörg Mammel, tenor; Wolf Matthias Friedrich, bass; Carin van Heerden, Gerd Lünenbürger, recorder; Ulla Bundies, Anette Sichelschmidt, Cosima Taubert, violin; Mieneke van der Velden, Kaori Uemura, Ricardo Rodriguez Miranda, viola da gamba; Matthias Müller, violone; Carsten Lohff, organ
[CP] Bruce Dickey, cornett; Simen van Mechelen, sackbut

Matthias Weckmann – or Weckman, as his name is spelled in most manuscripts – was one of Germany’s most important composers of the mid-17th century. At a very young age his father brought him to Heinrich Schütz in Dresden, where he became a treble singer. After his voice changed, around 1632, he acted as an organist in the court chapel.
He was sent to Hamburg to study with the organist Jacob Praetorius, and there he also underwent the influence of Heinrich Scheidemann. From 1639 to 1642 he was a member of the chapel of the Dresden elector’s son, Johann Georg. After that he spent four years in the royal chapel in Denmark. After his return to Dresden Weckmann befriended another of Schütz' pupils, Christoph Bernhard, and also Johann Jacob Froberger, whom he met when Froberger visited Dresden.

In 1655 Weckmann was appointed organist of the Jacobikirche in Hamburg. Soon he became a leading figure in the musical life in the city, where in 1660 he founded a collegium musicum, which performed the newest music from Germany, Austria and Italy. In 1663 Hamburg was hit by the plague, which killed his colleagues Scheidemann and Selle. On proposal of Weckmann Selle was succeeded by Christoph Bernhard as Kantor of the churches in Hamburg. When Weckmann died Bernhard was in charge of the music during the funeral service.

The number of surviving works by Weckmann is rather small, but of high quality. In his vocal works he stands out as a composer with a strong sense of drama. Through his musical education with Schütz he was well aware of the Italian concertato style, but he also possessed a large number of autographs with the newest Italian music, for example secular cantatas and excerpts from operas by Carissimi and Cesti. In his work he looks for possibilities to create a dialogue. In Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste – a piece on texts from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, written under the impression of the plague in Hamburg in 1663 – the soprano acts as witness of the fall of the city and the bass sings the words of the prophet. In the autograph Weckmann has indicated how it should be performed: “In this piece the discant must not be placed right next to the bass but a little away from him”, which underlines the importance of the dialogue character of this work.

This sacred concerto is part of a manuscript which is part of the Ratsbibliothek of Lüneburg. This also contains two of the other pieces on this disc, which are probably also written in connection to the plague of 1663, to which Weckmann's first wife also fell victim. One of these is Weine nicht, on a text after verses from Revelation, ch 5: "Weep not, behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda hath prevailed". This concerto contains instrumental sections which reflect Weckmann's preference for a theatrical style. This is expressed through harmonic boldness and strong chromaticism. In this work we also find a real battaglia, reflecting the battle of the Lion (Jesus) with Evil. In the vocal episode which follows it the voices take up the fanfare motifs of the battaglia. The concluding ‘Amen’ is a ciacona on the bass of Monteverdi’s madrigal Zefiro torna, which was also used by Schütz in his concerto Es steh Gott auf from the Symphoniae Sacrae of 1647.

The third concerto from the Lüneburg manuscript is Zion spricht on the verses 14 to 16 from Isaiah 49: "Zion said: the Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me". Like in Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste Weckmann indicates how the piece is to be performed: "This piece has absolutely to be performed slowly and with emphasis on the Affekts". In the first section Weckmann suggests several people speaking at the same time as the two lines are sung simultaneously by various singers, only to join at the end of this section. It is followed by a highly expressive episode for bass solo, "Can a woman forget her sucking child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb?" There are very strong dissonances at the end of this episode on the words 'über den Sohn' (on the son).

From another source, but stylistically very close to these three pieces is Wenn der Herr die Gefangenen zu Zion, a setting of Psalm 126: "When the Lord turned again the captivity of Zion, we were like them that dream." The last words are expressed through a beautiful swaying rhythm, and in the next section words like "Lachen" (laughter) and "Rühmens" (praising) are effectively set on a vivid rhythm and coloraturas. As one may expect, the contrasts in the last verses - beginning with "they that sow in tears shall reap in joy" - are explored to the full.

In addition there are some smaller pieces. Der Tod ist verschlungen in den Sieg is a concerto for Easter on a text from 1 Corinthians 15: "Death is swallowed up in victory". There is a clear contrast between the two halves of this text, and words like "Stachel" (sting), "Hölle" (hell) and "Sieg" (victory) are singled out.

Gegrüßet seist Du, Holdselige is a dialogue between the angel Gabriel (tenor) and Mary (soprano). Both singers have their own accompanying instruments: the soprano has two recorders, the tenor two violins. They also sing in different keys. In the concluding ‘Alleluja’ the instruments merge and the key modulates from A minor (Mary) to F major (the angel).

Lastly we hear a concerto for bass solo, Kommet her zu mir, on the verses 28 and 29 from Matthew 11, in which Jesus states: "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest". There is a long coloratura on "beladen" (heavy laden), but the phrase "so werdet ihr Ruhe finden" (and ye shall find rest) is set to sweet consonants, creating the Affekt of peace and quiet.

Between the vocal items there are two instrumental pieces. Weckmann's compositions for instrumental ensemble are far less well-known than his vocal works, but they reflect the same boldness and sense of experiment as his vocal oeuvre. The two Canzonas on this disc are scored for violin, cornett, sackbut and bc. They contain strong contrasts in tempo and metre, and through various combinations of instruments also in colour.

Cantus Cölln is an expert in this kind of music, and has produced an impressive number of recordings of German 17th-century music. The best-known piece is Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste, which is available in a number of recordings. But I haven't heard it in such a dramatic and thetrical fashion as here. Considering Weckmann's interest in Italian music and his general preference for the theatrical style which is one of its main features that seems wholly justified. Peter Wollny, in his programme notes, suggests Weckmann's sacred concertos were meant for performance in the weekly concerts of the Collegium Musicum rather than the liturgy. If he is right that this would be another argument in favour of such a dramatic interpretation. That doesn't mean that another approach is wrong, but at least we get here something we haven't heard before.

The other compositions on this disc are equally well performed. They are also theatrical if that is appropriate. Only sometimes I found Wolf Matthias Friedrich's voice a bit too loud and too harsh, but in Kommet her zu mir the words "sanft" and "leicht" (for my yoke is easy, and my burden is light) are sung really softly and gently. Hans Jörg Mammel's diction in Gegrüßet seist du is admirable. The instrumentalists of Cantus Cölln and Concerto Palatino also give wonderful performances.

In short, this is a really splendid recording of masterpieces by one of the greatest German composers of the 17th century.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Cantus Cölln

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