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Valentin MOLITOR (1637 - 1713): "Motetten (1683)"

Basler Madrigalisten; Musica Fiorita
Dir: Daniela Dolci

rec: Feb 24 - 27, 2014, Basel, Kapelle Adullam
Pan Classics - PC 10313 (© 2014) (69'00")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: D
Cover & track-list

Beata es Virgo Maria; Beatissimae Virginis Mariae nativitatem; Magnus Dominus; Nunc dimittisa; O Maria Mater Deib; Plangite mortalis; Sancta et immaculata virginitas; Suscipe verbum Virgo Maria; Suscepimus Deus misericordiam tuam; Tota pulchea es amica mea; Viderunt omnes fines terrae

Source: Epinicion Marianum pro solemnioribus festivitatibus magnae Matris Virginis Mariae, a 5. vocibus concentu una cum 2. violinis necessariis, 1683

[BM] Jessica Jans (soloa), Agnieszka Kowalczyk, soprano; Daniel Cabena (solob), David Feldman, alto; Nicolas Savoy, Daniel Issa, tenor; Jean-Christophe Groffe, Philippe Rayot, bass
[MF] Bork-Frithjof Smith, cornett; Katharina Heutjer, Gérman Echeverri, violin; Michael Lang-Alsvik, viola; Marco Lo Cicero, violone; Juan Sebastián Lima, theorbo; Daniela Dolci, organ

Recently several discs have been released with music by a composer with the name of Molitor. However, there are two composers of this name which seem not related. Because of their identical surname and the fact that they are hardly known they could be easily confused. Recently I wrote a review of a disc with motets by Ingenuin Molitor, a composer from Austria who lived from around 1610 to 1669. The composer who is the subject of the present disc has the Christian name of Valentin, and was from Switzerland. Like his namesake he was a clergyman and worked most of his life in a monastery, in this case that of St. Gallen. Here he took his vows in 1656. The first signs of his activities as a composer date from 1660. In 1666 he moved to Kempten (Allgäu, Germany) where he became organist at the monastery church of Kempten Abbey. Here he published his first collection of motets. In 1672 Molitor returned to St Gallen where he became organist and worked also as organ teacher. In 1681 the monastery published a mass from his pen and in 1683 the collection of 18 motets; eleven of these have been selected for the present disc.

The motets are connected to six Marian feasts in the liturgical calender (unfortunately not indicated in the tracklist): the Circumcision of Our Lord and the feast of the Purification of the Virgin, the Annunciation of Our Lady, the Assumption of the Virgin Mary, the Birth of the Virgin Mary and the Immaculate Conception. To each of these six feasts two motets and one solo concerto were devoted. One of the remarkable features of this collection is the scoring for instruments, because in St Gallen the use of instruments was restricted and only allowed at special occasions of a festive nature. One wonders why Molitor has ignored this rule. In the liner-notes it is suggested that he wanted to break away from this conservative tendency. If that is the case, he didn't succeed, because in the 1680s the convent's abbott Gallus Alt twice ordered to sing the vesper services at liturgical feasts in falsobordone.

Molitor requires two violins and basso continuo but also suggests the inclusion of other instruments. For this recording Daniela Dolci has chosen the cornett. One just wonders whether such an instrument was played in a convent which was not used to perform sacred music with instrumental participation. In comparison violins were more common instruments. Musically speaking it works very well, especially because the concertato style Molitor uses has its roots in the Italian music of the early 17th century. The way Molitor deploys the instruments in his motets also points in that direction. Moreover, these motets have a strongly declamatory character. The text is always in the centre and is incisively depicted in the music. The motets on this disc include many examples. In the very first motet the word "conturbati" (confused) is set to a striking descending chromatic figure. "Tremor" (pain) is also vividly depicted. O Maria mater Dei begins with an esclamatio, a rhetorical figure which was often used in music of the seconda prattica. Plangite mortales comprises two sections which strongly contrast in content and therefore also in musical figures. These motets reflect the importance of the veneration of Mary in the Roman Catholic Church in the time of the Counter Reformation. Beata es, Virgo Maria is a telling example. The opening lines express the beatitude of the Virgin because she has carried the Lord, "the Creator of the world". These lines take half of the motet which emphasizes the importance of this statement.

One wonders why this music has not been recorded before. I am quite impressed by the quality of Molitor's motets, and especially the way he has translated words into music. I am also impressed by the performances which do Molitor's motets full justice. The ensemble is outstanding, and the singers fully master the declamatory nature of these pieces. Two of the members sing a solo motet, and they do so very well, also in regard to ornamentation. The playing is of the same level.

These are highly expressive performances of music which deserves to be performed. I strongly recommend this disc, in particular to those who are ready to strike out upon new paths. Don't be put off by the fact that the booklet omits English translations of the lyrics, as regrettable as that is.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Basler Madrigalisten
Musica Fiorita

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