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Alexander UTENDAL (c1530 - 1581): "Meine Tage sind wie Schatten - Bußpsalmen (1570) & Magnificats (1573)" (My days are like shadows - Penitential Psalms & Magnificats)

Profeti della Quinta
Dir: Elam Rotem

rec: Sept 10 - 12, 2017, Church of the Seminary of the diocese Innsbruck and Feldkirch
Musikmuseum - CD13036 (© 2018) (56'18")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Magnificat 2. toni [2]; Magnificat 4. toni [2]; Magnificat 7. toni [2]; Psalmus poenitentialis primus: Domine ne in furore tuo arguas me [1]; Psalmus poenitentialis secundus: Beati quorum missae sunt [1]; Psalmus poenitentialis quintus: Domine exaudi orationem meam [1]

Sources: [1] Septem Psalmi Poenitentiales, 1570; [2] Tres missae ... item Magnificat per octo tonos, 1573

Doron Schleifer, cantus; Roman Melish, altus; Dan Dunkelblum, tenor; Elam Rotem, bassus
Giovanna Baviera, Brigitte Gasser, Elizabeth Rumsey, Leonardo Bartolotto, viola da gamba; Ori Harmelin, lute

Since a number of years the Tiroler Landesmuseen are producing and releasing discs with music connected to music life in Austria in past and present. The repertoire spans a period of about 600 years, from the late Middle Ages to the present time. As one may expect, a considerable part of it is connected to the courts of Vienna and Innsbruck. Recently I reviewed a disc which was devoted to the meeting between Emperor Maximilian and his son Philip the Fair in Innsbruck in 1503. The disc to be reviewed here includes music by Alexander Utendal, who for most of his life was in the service of Archduke Ferdinand II of Austria-Tirol (1529-1595), son of Emperor Ferdinand I.

Utendal is a representative of the Franco-Flemish school. It is not known for sure when and where he was born, but it is assumed that he was from Ghent. In 1564 he entered the service of Ferdinand as an alto singer, but it seems likely that before he was a member of the court chapel of Ferdinand's aunt, Queen Mary of Hungary. In 1566 Utendal followed his employer to Innsbruck, after the latter had become governor of Tyrol. In 1572 at the latest Utendal was appointed vice-Kapellmeister; he held this position until his death. The fact that in 1580 he was offered the position of Kapellmeister of the Dresden court chapel (which he rejected) attests to his reputation in his time. This is confirmed by the fact that his compositions were included in many anthologies and his name was frequently mentioned in literary sources.

The subject of the present disc are his settings of the seven penitential psalms. The listing of these psalms (6, 31/32, 37/38, 50/51, 101/102, 129/130 and 142/143) was firmed up by Cassiodorus, a 6th-century contemporary of St Benedict. They were traditionally prayed communally each day during Lent; Pope Innocent III (1198-1216) ordered them to be prayed at this time. Utendal was not the first to set them as a cycle. The best-known settings are those from the pen of Orlandus Lassus. These were only published in 1584, but according to the composer he had written them before 1559. His employer considered them as his private property and did not allow Lassus to publish them.

It seems likely that the two composers knew each other and have met at several occasions. Lassus' employer, Albrecht V, was married to Anna, a sister of Archduke Ferdinand. There are also some similarities between the two cycles. Both are for five voices, and both composers constructed their settings as sequences of motets. Domine ne in furore tuo comprises three partes, Beati quorum remissae sunt four and Domine exaudi orationem meam eight. Although Lassus was and is considered one of the pioneers of text expression, in these psalms he is rather restrained in this department, and so is Utendal. Both composers certainly highlight words and phrases with musical means, but overall they avoid the use of madrigalisms.

There is also a difference between Lassus and Utendal. The former confined himself to the eight traditional modi, but Utendal embraced the views of Heinrich Glarean (1488-1563), who, in his treatise Dodecachordon of 1547 adds four modi to these eight. In order to be able to make use of all twelve modi Utendal added five orationes, excerpts from the prophets of the Old Testament.

In 2012 Profeti della Quinta recorded three of Lassus's penitential psalms. They performed them with voices and instruments. That is also the way these four penitential psalms by Utendal are performed here. This option is specifically mentioned on the title page: "aptissima tam vivae voci, quam diversis musicorum instrumentorum generibus harmonia accommodati". Whereas in Lassus the instrumental ensemble included loud and soft winds and a spinet, here the instrumental participation is confined to a consort of viols and lute. They play mostly colla voce, but as the vocal ensemble comprises only four singers, one part has to be performed instrumentally. The second section of Beati quorum remissae sunt is performed by Doron Schleifer and the viol consort. This could well be inspired by the text: "I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine inequity I have not hid". It is true that this is a very personal statement, but there are other passages in these psalms of a comparable nature. Moreover, the psalms of the Old Testament are often written from a personal perspective, but later became part of the chants in the temple, and therefore the expression of the feelings of the faithful as a collective. This way of performing seems fully legitimate, but I find it rather odd that this is the only episode that is performed this way.

That does not in any way diminish my appreciation of and admiration for these performances. Utendal is a largely unknown quantity and his music is seldom performed. Therefore this disc deserves a wholehearted welcome anyway. Profeti della Quinta is an excellent ensemble and this disc is just as good as was the Lassus recording. The voices blend perfectly, with each other and with the instruments. There is some fine dynamic shading, and the treatment of the text is exemplary. I very much hope that they will have the opportunity to record the remaining penitential psalms as well as some more Magnificat settings, of which this disc includes three, all performed instrumentally. And let us hope that Utendal is going to receive the attention he deserves.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

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