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Melchior FRANCK (c1579 - 1639): "Gehet hin in alle Welt - Choral Works"

Manja Stephan, sopranoa; Gero Parmentier, lutea
Norddeutscher Kammerchorb
Dir: Maria Jürgensen

rec: August 16 - 18, 2013, Bernitt, Dorfkirche
MDG - 902 1829-6 (© 2013) (68'37")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Das alte Jahr vergangen istb; Die Menschen aber wunderten sichb; Es ist nicht fein, daß man den Kindern ihr Brot nehmeb; Fürchte dich nicht, Mariab; Fürchtet euch nichtab; Fürwahr, er trug unsre Krankheitb; Geh aus auf die Landstraßenb; Gehet hin in alle Weltb; Gehet hin und saget Johanni wiederb; Gleichwie der Blitz ausgehetb; Heb dich weg von mir, Satana; Herr, meine Tochter ist jetzt gestorbenb; Hosianna dem Sohne Davidsb; Ich bin ein guter Hirteb; Jedermann gibt zum ersten guten Weinb; Kommt her, ihr Gesegneten meines Vatersb; Machet ihr Freude mit dem ungerechten Mammonb; Mein Sohn, warum hast du uns das getana; Meister, wir haben die ganze Nacht gearbeitetb; Saget den Gästenb; Sammelt zuvor das Unkrautb; Steh auf und nimm das Kindleinb; Trachtet am ersten nach dem Reich Gottesb; Und ich hörte eine große Stimmb; Wahrlich, ich sage euchb; Wenn du geladen wirst, so gehe hinb; Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort haltenb; Wer sich selbst erhöhetb; Woher kommt mir dasa

Source: Gemmulae Evangeliorum Musicae, Newes Geistliches Musicalisches Werklein in welchem die fürnembsten Sprüche auß den Fest und Sontäglichen Evangeliis durchs gantze Jahr zu finden, 1623

Stefanie Dahl, Miriam Fahnert, Heilwig Lorenz, Judith Müller, soprano; Julia Hebecker, Antonia Praetorius, Cäcilia Vormstein, contralto; Jeremy Almeida Uy, Hans Thiemann, Wilfried Walter, tenor; Tobias Gebauer, Thomas Oettel, Martin Sommer, Frank Wiegand, bass

The years of birth and death of Melchior Franck indicate that he experienced two important events which had a lasting influence on his life and career. Firstly, a musical style which was dominated by counterpoint gradually made way for a new aesthetic in which the text was at the centre and which saw the emergence of compositions for solo voice(s). Secondly, as so many of his colleagues Franck had to deal with the effects of the Thirty Years War (1618-1648). The latter put an end to a period of happiness in the service of Duke Johann Casimir of Saxe-Coburg who was a great music-lover. In 1630 Coburg and its surroundings were destroyed and the economy ruined. Moreover, the Duke died in 1633, whereas Franck himself lost his wife and two children. The new Duke, Johann Ernst, was less passionate about music and also was forced to take drastic measures to restore the economy. The court chapel was much reduced, and so was Franck's salary. He died poverty-stricken in 1639.

Franck was born in Zittau and may have studied first with Christoph Demantius. Later he sang in the choir of St Anna in Augsburg. In 1601 he went to Nuremberg, and it is likely that he became a student of Hans-Leo Hassler. The latter's influence is clearly discernible in Franck's oeuvre. In Hassler two important lines came together: on the one hand the style of the Franco-Flemish school which he had inherited from his teacher Leonhard Lechner - who took Lassus as his model - and on the other hand the antiphonal style of the Gabrieli's in Venice.

Franck's oeuvre is huge and versatile. Between 1601 and 1636 nineteen collections of sacred music were printed and thirteen editions with secular music. Add to that four collections of instrumental pieces and a considerable number of works which have been preserved in manuscript, among them many occasional compositions. His oeuvre bears witness to the changes from the stile antico to the stile nuovo. In his earlier works he usually writes for voices which could be supported by instruments. Later he makes use of the basso continuo, for the first time in 1627. That indicates that the collection from 1623 which is the subject of the present disc is for voices only.

Gemmulae Evangeliorum Musicae includes, as the title says, "musical jewels from the Gospels". These 68 motets - four of which are pairs - are all on texts from the Gospels and ordered according to the time of the ecclesiastical year. They are connected to the Gospel reading of the various Sundays and feastdays. Mostly a single verse is chosen, sometimes a longer episode is set. This is music which is of limited technical complexity and was intended for smaller chapels which didn't have highly-skilled singers at their disposal. This also justifies a performance with voices alone, without the participation of instruments. Moreover, the tessitura of the motets is rather narrow which makes them suitable for children's voices.

In line with the Lutheran ideal of a clear communication of the text Franck often makes use of homophony. Polyphony is used to expose the contrasts within a text. Other means are the use of harmony and shifts in rhythm and pace. Moreover, as was common practice in the music of the late renaissance, madrigalisms were deployed in order to single out specific words or phrases. These motets include various striking examples.

I first heard this choir on a disc with music by Johannes Eccard. I liked its way of singing and found its performances convincing. The same standard is noticeable here: the ensemble of fourteen voices produces a transparent sound and the delivery is outstanding. Those who understand German will have no trouble listening to these motets without the lyrics in the booklet. For those who have no knowledge of German the omission of English translations is regrettable. Fortunately the tracklist includes references to the biblical passages which are set, and therefore it should be no problem to find translations in an English version of the Bible or online.

Although I assess this disc positively I am not completely satisfied. Firstly, I would have liked a more speechlike performance, with stronger dynamic shading. This way the text would have been even better communicated. Moreover, I feel that the expressive aspects have not been fully explored. A more detailed treatment of elements in the texts would not have gone amiss. In Wahrlich ich sage euch, for instance, too little is done with the words "weinen und heulen" (weep and lament). The same goes for the passage "Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft" (Now is come salvation and strength) in Und ich hörte eine große Stimm. Overall these performances are a little too uniform.

Even so, everyone who is interested in 17th century sacred music should consider this disc. Franck is not totally neglected. I would like to refer here to two important recordings, with motets from the Canticum Canticorum and with penitential psalms (review). However, his music is certainly not part of the standard repertoire, and the motets on the present disc are well worth exploring. That is reason enough to welcome it.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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Norddeutscher Kammerchor

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