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"German Baroque Cantatas"

Hana Blaziková, soprano

rec: April 22 - 25, 2013, Cologne-Michaelshoven, Erzengel-Michael-Kirche
Pan Classics - PC 10293 (© 2013) (73'27")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Heinrich Ignaz Franz VON BIBER (1644-1704) (attr): O dulcis Jesu, sacred concerto for solo voice, violin and bc; Dietrich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Gen Himmel zu dem Vater mein, cantata for solo voice, violin, viola da gamba and bc (BuxWV 32); Samuel CAPRICORNUS (1628-1665): Jesu nostra redemptio, sacred concerto for solo voice, viola da gamba and bc; Samuel EBART (1655-1684): Miserere, Christe, mei, sacred concerto for solo voice, violin, viola da gamba and bc; Johann Philipp FÖRTSCH (1652-1732): Aus der Tiefen ruf ich, Herr, zu dir, cantata for solo voice, violin, viola da gamba and bc; Johann Philipp KRIEGER (1649-1725): Sonata VII à 2 for violin, viola da gamba and bc in B flat, op. 2,7; Johann PACHELBEL (c1653-1706): Ciacona for keyboard in f minor; Mein Fleisch ist die rechte Speise, cantata for solo voice, violin and bc; Johann SCHOP (c159-1667): Jauchzet dem Herrn, sacred concerto for solo voice, violin and bc

Sources: Johann Schop, Geistliche Conzerten, 1644; Samuel Capricornus, Scelta musicale, 1668/69; Johann Philipp Krieger, XII Suonata à doi, Violino e viola da gamba, op. 2, 1693

Daniel Deuter, violin; Heike Johanna Lindner, viola da gamba; Markus Märkl, harpsichord, organ

In few parts of Europe the new compositional style which had emerged in Italy in the early decades of the 17th century was so enthusiastically embraced as in Germany. That includes the centre and northern regions which were dominated by Lutheranism. One of the ideals of Martin Luther was the communication of the text - especially the biblical text - to the congregation. The monodic style was almost taylor-made to meet this ideal. One voice delivers the text - preferably in German - and is supported by instruments. In Germany the accompaniment of two violins, and even more so one violin and viola da gamba, was most common. The latter scoring was also frequently practised in instrumental music.

The present disc offers an interesting survey of the kind of sacred concertos and cantatas which were written in the Protestant part of Germany. The instrumental parts were often played by members of the Ratsmusik, the instrumental ensemble which in many German towns was in the service of the local authorities and whose members were often virtuosos on various instruments. The standard of playing at the violin and the viola da gamba was very high, as the instrumental parts of these sacred concertos show. Pachelbel's Mein Fleisch ist die rechte Speise, for instance, begins with an extended solo episode for the violin, which takes more than two minutes, whereas the whole piece lasts just under seven minutes. Even more prominent is the role of the viola da gamba in Jesu nostra redemptio by Samuel Capricornus: this concerto begins with an introduction by the gamba, which lasts almost three minutes, and the first vocal section is followed by another long solo passage for the gamba.

There is considerable variety in style and texture between the concertos on the programme. The setting of Psalm 100, Jauchzet dem Herren, by Johann Schop is relatively straighforward, which can be explained from the text which doesn't give many opportunities for emotional expression. That is quite different with Psalm 130, in Latin known as De profundis. Here we hear a setting of the text from Luther's translation of the Bible, Aus der Tiefen ruf ich, Herr, zu dir. The composer, Johann Philipp Förtsch, was for a number of years associated with the Oper am Gänsemarkt in Hamburg, and this explains the dramatic character of his sacred music. That comes even more to the fore in his dialogues. Förtsch died during the period we used to call the 'late baroque', but his sacred works date from before 1685, and this explains that they reflect the style of the late 17th century.

An interesting aspect of the programme is the inclusion of some pieces which have a rather mystic content. That goes, for instance, for Miserere, Christe, mei by Samuel Ebart. He was organist of the Marktkirche in Halle; this concerto was written to be performed sub communione. There is documented evidence that the sacred concerto O dulcis Jesu was performed in Halle nine years after Ebart's composition. It is attributed to Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber which is supported by the fact that the violin plays in scordatura, a specialty of the Bohemian-born Biber. In his liner-notes Bernd Heyder states that this work "in its passionate courtly love of Jesus (...) appears to reveal a Jesuit influence". If the Roman-Catholic Biber is indeed the composer that can hardly come as a surprise. However, there is no reason to specifically refer to Jesuit influence here. A text like this could be performed without any problem in a Lutheran context as the performance in Halle shows. Firstly, the second half of the 17th century saw the emergence of Pietism in Lutheran Germany, which had its roots in medieval mysticism. Secondly, even before Pietism disseminated there was a strong influence of traditional mysticism in German Protestantism. Buxtehude's famous cantata cycle for Passiontide, Membra Jesu nostri, partly based on texts which were then thought to be from Bernard of Clairvaux's pen, bears witness to that. Therefore another piece of the same kind, Jesu nostra redemptio, doesn't need to be connected to Jesuit influences either, as Heyder does. Its composer, Samuel Capricornus, worked in Stuttgart the last eight years of his life, again a Protestant surrounding. There is really nothing in the text which would be out of place in a Lutheran environment. The passion which is a feature of such pieces is also due to Italian influence; Capriconus had studied for some time in Vienna which was completely dominated by the Italian style.

Another important feature of German Protestant music is the chorale. Part of Luther's reforms was the creation of a repertoire of hymns in the vernacular which could be sung by the congregation. Luther himself wrote texts, and many poets followed in his footsteps. These texts were set to music by prominent and less famous composers. These chorales were often harmonized, arranged in various ways or incorporated into larger sacred pieces. Buxtehude's cantata Gen Himmel zu dem Vater mein is an example of a cantata based on a chorale, in this case Nun freut euch, lieben Christen g'mein, on a text and melody by Luther. This cantata is one of three chorale concertos in Buxtehude's oeuvre. The soprano sings an ornamented cantus firmus in the first of the two stanzas, whereas the chorale melody is treated more freely in the second stanza.

The programme is extended by two instrumental pieces. The Sonata VII in B flat by Johann Philipp Krieger is an example of the German preference for the scoring of violin, viola da gamba and bc. It comprises a sequence of short contrasting sections which makes it a specimen of the stylus phantasticus which had such a great influence in German instrumental and organ music. Pachelbel's Ciacona in f minor features another form which was often used in the baroque period, in Germany but almost everywhere else: the basso ostinato. Pachelbel was one of Germany's most important organists who was influenced by the Italian style which he passed on to composers of the next generation, among them Johann Sebastian Bach.

The performances on this disc are nearly ideal. Hana Blaziková has the perfect voice for this kind of repertoire. Her idiomatic pronunciation of German, her perfect articulation and diction and her understanding of the music's content result in incisive and totally convincing performances. The text should always be in the centre of attention, and that is the case here. The instrumental parts are often technically demanding, and they are played here with impressive ease. They also greatly contribute to the impact of these sacred concertos. There is just one minus: the Italian pronunciation of Latin is historically untenable.

The booklet includes informative liner-notes. In them one finds a passage about a sonata by Buxtehude which is not performed here. It seems that the liner-notes were originally written for a series of live performances by these artists in which this sonata was included. Someone forgot to remove this passage from the text.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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