musica Dei donum
Sebastian KNÜPFER (1633 - 1676): "Sacred Music"
The King's Consort
Dir: Robert King
rec: Sept 12 - 15, 1999, [n.p.]
Hyperion/Helios - CDH55393 (R) (© 2000/2011) (79'36")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht in deinem Zorn;
Die Turteltaube läßt sich hören;
Jesus Christus, unser Heiland;
Quemadmodum desiderat cervus;
Super flumina Babylonis;
Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her;
Was mein Gott will, das gscheh allzeit;
Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist
Lisa Beckley, Julie Cooper, Susan Hamilton, Rebecca Outram, Carolyn Sampson, soprano;
Robin Blaze, James Bowman, alto;
Charles Daniels, James Gilchrist, tenor;
Robert Evans, Michael George, Peter Harvey, bass;
Rebecca Miles, Rachel Brown, recorder;
Jeremy West, Fiona Russell, cornett;
Crispian Steele-Perkins, David Blackadder, James Ghigi, Phillip Bainbridge, John Young, trumpet;
Abigail Newman, Adam Woolf, Adrian France, sackbut;
Alastair Mitchell, bassoon;
Simon Jones, Julia Bishop, Rodolfo Richter, violin;
Rachel Byrt, Timothy Cronin, Oliver Webber, viola;
Katherine Sharman, cello;
Timothy Amherst, violone
Frances Kelly, harp;
David Miller, theorbo;
Laurence Cummings, organ;
Charles Fullbrook, timpani
In his celebrated series of recordings of music by Bach's predecessors as Thomaskantor in Leipzig Robert King devoted a whole disc to one of the least-known who held that position. Sebastian Knüpfer's music has long been ignored, and a large part of his output is not yet transcribed, let alone published. For this recording of 1999 a number of pieces had to be dug out of the archives and specially prepared. It was well worth the effort, because Knüpfer turns out to be a highly original composer. That comes to the fore not only in the way he sets a text, but also in his instrumental scoring, which is sometimes quite surprising.
Knüpfer was born in Asch in Bavaria (now in the Czech Republic) where his father was Kantor. He received his first musical education from him and entered the Gymnasium Poeticum in Regensburg where he remained for eight years. He turned out to be a brilliant student who excelled in poetry and philology. In 1654 he moved to Leipzig, probably to study at the University. However, his main activities were in the field of music, singing as a bass in various choirs. When the Thomaskantor Tobias Michael died in 1657 he applied for his post and was appointed. He improved the standard of the musical establishment which had severely suffered from the devastations of the Thirty Years' War. As a result Leipzig developed into one of Germany's main musical centres. Here he became also a respected member of the intellectual community. Many of his sacred concertos are based on hymns, and he shows a great mastery of counterpoint. Unfortunately a large part of his oevre has been lost.
This disc includes a selection from Knüpfer's output which consists almost entirely of sacred music. The scoring is very different: Quemadmodum desiderat cervus is a sacred concerto for solo voice (bass), five-part strings and bc. The closing piece is the large-scale Die Turteltaube läßt sich hören, for five voices, two violins, two violas, bassoon, four trumpets, timpani and bc. This is one of the pieces whose instrumental scoring comes as a bit of a surprise, considering the text: "The voice of the turtle dove is heard in our land". One of the striking things in Knüpfer's oeuvre is the differentiated treatment of the text. In this particular piece the opening phrase is given to the trumpets and timpani, but that is immediately followed by an intimate episode for solo violin which clearly refers to the first line of the text I just quoted.
Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht is a setting of Psalm 6, one of the penitential psalms. The inclusion of two trumpets and two recorders again seems at odds with the text. The trumpet parts are especially notable as they have to play in the key of c minor which very seldom happens at that time. They lend this piece great intensity and contribute to its dramatic character. The closing word "plötzlich" ([be ashamed] suddenly) is repeated several times, and then the trumpets bring the piece to a rather intimate end. Another piece in which Knüpfer uses wind instruments - in this case two cornetts and three sackbuts - for dramatic reasons is the setting Psalm 137, Super flumina Babylonis. The middle sections are given to solo voices, which guarantees that the more introverted parts of the text come off equally well, such as "If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning".
Obviously the hymns which were an integral part of Lutheran worship play an important role in Knüpfer's oeuvre. The disc begins with a piece which is based on one of the most popular Christmas hymns, Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her, which is set as a dialogue between angels and shepherds. The former's part is of great intimacy, and closes with a strict canon. The two groups join in the song of praise which brings the piece to a close. In other concertos based on hymns - Was mein Gott will, Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist and Jesus Christus unser Heiland - Knüpfer makes use of the chorale melody in some sections, whereas in other episodes he treats the text more freely.
Italian influences are apparent in several compositions. Quemadmodum desiderant cervus is one example, another is Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist which is an arrangement of a dialogue written by Johann Rosenmüller (1619-1684) whose oeuvre reflects his preference for the dramatic Italian style of his time.
In his liner-notes Peter Wollny refers to Alfred Einstein who stated that Knüpfer's compositions belong to "those apparently fossilized musical monuments that merely require a magician and his magic spell in order to burst back into life". I wouldn't call Robert King a magician, but he certainly has gone a long way towards bringing back Knüpfer's music to full glory. The soloists do quite well in the interpretation of the text; only now and then one notices that they are not German speakers. The more extroverted parts get full weight, and the brilliance of Knüpfer's instrumental scoring is well conveyed.
It is just a few little details that leave this recording falling short of ideal. One is the slight vibrato in some voices here and there, which results in a less than fully satisfying ensemble. The playing of the strings could have been more dynamically differentiated. However, the main thing to bear in mind is that this disc sheds light on a composer who is still - even now, more than ten years later - poorly represented in the catalogue. That makes this reissue most welcome. It is to be hoped that it will inspire performers to turn their attention to Knüpfer's oeuvre and treat him with the respect he deserves.
Johan van Veen (© 2013)
The King's Consort