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CD reviews

Jacob REGNART (c1540 - 1599): Missa Christ ist erstanden


rec: June 30 - July 2, 2020, Vienna, Kartause Mauerbach
Hyperion - CDA68369 (© 2021) (64'45")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Christ ist erstanden [1]; Freu dich, du werthe Christenheit [1]; Jacob REGNART: Maria fein, du klarer Schein; Missa Christ ist erstanden; Missa Freu dich, du werthe Christenheit; Rühmbt alle Werck deß Herren; Wann ich nur dich hab

Sources: [1] Johannes Paur, ed., Catholisches Gesangbüchlein, 1588

Terry Wey, alto; Achim Schulz, Tore Tom Denys, tenor; Tim Scott Whiteley, baritone; Ulfried Staber, bass

In 1588 a hymnal was printed in Innsbruck, under the title of Catholisches Gesangbüchlein (Little Catholic Hymnbook). It included sacred songs in the vernacular, and in the preface it was stated that singing in one's native language was not a Lutheran innovation but an "age-old Catholic practice". This was supported in particular by a section of 'Old Catholic Easter Songs'. From this part of the hymnbook Jacobus Regnart took the hymns he used as the basis for the two masses recorded by Cinquecento.

Regnart was one of five brothers who were all made a career in music. Most of them were connected to a member of the Habsburg dynasty: Charles and Pascasius were in the service of Philip II of Spain, Augustin was a canon in Lille and François worked first in Tournai and then for the Austrian Habsburgs. The latter is the best-known, apart from Jacob, and left a considerable number of works. It was Jacob, though, who can be considered one of the most prolific composers of his time.

Jacob entered the service of the Habsburgs at the early age of 17, probably as a boy chorister. He worked at the various courts - Vienna, Prague and Innsbruck - until his death, with an interval in the late 1560s when he went to Italy to broaden his horizon. In 1580, when he was vice-Kapellmeister in Prague, the court in Dresden was looking for a successor to Antonio Scandello, who was Kapellmeister from 1568 until his death. No less than Orlandus Lassus, who had declined the post himself, recommended Regnart. However, the latter turned down the offer, and Erika Supria Honisch, in her liner-notes to the present recording, suggests that he may have done so for religious reasons. Regnart was a staunch Catholic and the Dresden court had converted to Lutheranism. In 1582 he rather moved to Innsbruck, and entered the service of Archduke Ferdinand II, who attempted to revitalize Catholicism in the lands under his jurisdiction. When Ferdinand died in 1595, Regnart returned to Prague.

Regnart not only published a large number of works, many of them were reprinted several times until as late as 1655. His German songs were especially popular, but he himself apparently considered his masses as his main works. After his death three books with masses were printed, which were dedicated to three of the main Catholic rulers of his time: Emperor Rudolf II, Archduke Ferdinand II and Duke Maximilian of Bavaria. It seems likely that Regnart's widow, who was the daughter of a renowed singer at the Bavarian court, and must have been musically educated, took care of the publication of these masses.

Among them are the two masses included here. The first is based on Christ ist erstanden, which may well be the oldest liturgical song in German. The first stanza dates from around 1100. Later two further stanzas were added; the last including several Alleluia exclamations. The melody is derived from the Easter sequence Victimae paschali laudes. The melody which was included in the 1588 Innsbruck hymn book, and which is sung here in unison before the mass, is largely identical with the one many may know as Luther's arrangement Christ lag in Todesbanden, which Bach used for his Easter cantata BWV 4. Nun freue dich, du Christenheit goes back to 1390 and appeared in a processional from Mainz; a later source is a manuscript from Breslau (today Wroclaw). The melody dates from around 1410, and has become best-known with the text Es ist das Heil uns kommen here; in this version it is a Christmas hymn. The hymn tunes appear in each section of the respective masses, and because it is monophonic, it is much easier to recognize than a polyphonic motet, which was the most common material used by composers for a 'parody mass'.

It is notable that Regnart's masses are differentiated in the way the words are set. There are many melismatic episodes, to by sung in pure legato, but there are also more syllabic passages, where a more declamatory manner of singing is required. Moreover, there are moments when the rhythm changes, and that may also be inspired by the text. Although this is still classical polyphony, like in the music of Lassus we find in Regnart's masses an increasing interest in text expression.

The programme also includes two German songs, which are adaptations of secular songs that were first written in Italian. As mentioned above, his German songs brought him much fame, and that was partly due to the fact that they were not technically too demanding, and could be sung by good amateurs. The author of the texts made sure that the original accents suited the new text.

Maria fein, du klarer Schein is another piece in German, and again a song - a setting of a single stanza from Maria zart, a song in praise of the Virgin Mary. In this piece we meet the staunch Catholic Regnart. Again he respects the original melody of the song, which moves up and down across the musical fabric.

This is the second recording of music by Regnart from Cinquecento. It is nice that this important master, whose music is not that often performed, is put into the spotlights by one of the most accomplished ensembles in the field of renaissance polyphony of our time. The singing is again of the highest order. The voices match perfectly, as is impressively demonstrated in the unison singing of the two hymns. The style of singing and the excellent recording make sure that the lines of the polyphonic web can be clearly followed and the hymn melodies are easily recognizable.

This is a must-have for those who look for less familiar repertoire for the Easter period.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

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