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Antonio SCANDELLO (1517 - 1580): "Im Himmel und auf Erden" (In heaven and on earth)

Clarissa Thiem, sopranoa; Giovanni Cantarini, tenorb
chordae freybergensis
Dir: Susanne Scholz

rec: Sept 4 - 6, 2014, Kleinwaltersdorf, churchb; Sept 8 - 9, 2014, Freiberg, Doma
Querstand - VKJK 1503 (© 2015) (63'07")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list
Scores Il primo libro delle canzone napolitane

Bona sera come staib [1]; Christ ist erstandena [2]; Donna crudelb [1]; Ein Kindelein so löbelicha [2]; Habe fiduciam in Dominoa [2]; Haveva na gab [1]; Io segua chi me fuggeb [1]; Lasset die Kindlein zu mir kommena [2]; Lobe den Herrn alle Heidena [2]; Lobet den Herrn denn er ist sehr freundlicha [2]; Nach dir mein Gott verlanget micha [2]; O dolce, o dolceb [1]; Preparati Madonnab [1]; Quanto debbe allegrarseb [1]; Sia maledet Amor [1]; Voria che tu cantass'unab [1]; Wenn wir in höchsten nöten seina [2]

Sources: [1] Il primo libro delle canzone napolitane, 1566; [2] Nawe und schöne deudsche Liedlein, 1568

Susanne Scholz, Jonathan Talbot, Dario Luisi, Marc Vanscheeuwijck, Jörg Meder, renaissance violin

The 16th century is the era of polyphony, known - in contrast to what was the dominant style of the next century - as prima prattica or stile antico. In that era the music scene was dominated by vocal music. Instruments played a subordinate role. That is to say: there was little music specifically written for instruments, apart from dance music. Instruments - either solo or in consort - played vocal music or participated in performances of vocal music, playing colla voce or substituting some of the voices. In modern performance practice ensembles of cornetts and sackbuts are often used in performances of sacred music and consorts of viols in secular music, in particular madrigals. The present disc includes performances of sacred and secular repertoire with an ensemble of renaissance violins. Such a consort was quite common at the time, but today it is still pretty rare. In recent times some recordings with a consort of violins have been released, but they contain mostly instrumental music.

The pieces selected for this recording are from the oeuvre of Antonio Scandello, an Italian composer who made a career in Germany. He was born in Bergamo in a family of trumpeters. He himself was also educated as such, and in 1530 he entered the service of the city, and became a member of the town piffari. He may also have played the cornett and the sackbut. In 1547 he moved to the court of Cardinal Madruzzi in Trent. In 1549 Elector Moritz of Saxony paid a visit to the court and hired the Cardinal's instrumentalists. In April Scandello and five of his colleagues arrived in Dresden.

His first compositions in Dresden were sacred pieces which show a strong familiarity with the idiom of the Franco-Flemish school. It has been suggested that this might have been the fruit of instructions from two composers who worked in Dresden, Johann Walter, Kapellmeister until 1554, and his successor Matthaeus Le Maistre. When the latter's health deteriorated Scandello acted as his substitute and in 1566 he was appointed Vice-Kapellmeister, a newly created post. At that time he had already become a citizen of Dresden and had converted to Lutheranism. It allowed him to be appointed as Kapellmeister in 1569, a post he held until his death.

In 1566 his first collection of compositions was published, the Il primo libro delle canzone napolitane, which was reprinted in 1572 and 1583, attesting to their popularity. A collection of German secular and sacred songs of 1570 was also twice reprinted. That was the second time he published pieces on German texts; in 1568 he had already published a collection of sacred songs, Nawe und schöne deudsche Liedlein. The present disc includes pieces from this collection as well as the 1572 canzone napolitane. Especially interesting is the fact that one piece appears in both collections, and is recorded here twice. The canzona Donna crudel was later reworked as a German sacred song: Lobe den Herrn alle Heiden. This procedure was quite common at the time, and various Lutheran chorales were originally written as secular songs. One of the most famous examples is the Passion chorale O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden.

The canzonas are for four voices, the German songs for four or five. They are performed here with one voice and instruments. This is one of the options available to performers. It is an interesting question how common the consort of violins was in Germany. Ian Woodfield, in his The Early History of the Viol (Cambridge, 1988), states that at the court of Munich, where Lassus was Kapellmeister at the time Scandello worked in Dresden, "a consort of 'Viole da brazzo' (violins) performed side by side with the viol consort. (...) During the fish course of one banquet, the performance of a six-part motet by Rore was entrusted to the 'viole da brazzo' alone. The equal status accorded to the viol and violin ensembles in the Munich orchestra is unusual for the time, and it suggests that Jambe de Fer's rather contemptuous opinion of the violin as an instrument best suited to dance music (1556) was already becoming outdated". From this we could conclude that performances like those on offer here are historically plausible. One could argue in favour of a little more variety in the scoring, for instance by performing some of the items with a full vocal ensemble with the violins playing colla voce. But the prominent role of the violins here is the main raison d'être of this disc.

It is inspired by the instruments which are copies of a unique set of original 16th century violins from the Cathedral in Freiberg. At the end of the 16th century 30 instruments were placed in the hands of golden angels in the funeral chapel. These have survived virtually unchanged and have been measured and copied. These copies are played by the members of chordae freybergensis which has performed in festivals and at conferences across Europe. They are different from other instruments by their sizes and pitches. "Already because of their special sizes, the five instruments in ensemble sound higher pitched, almost as if closer to the angels' sphere. If one wants to use four or five of these instruments in ensemble, one has to play a fourth or fifth higher than the notation, as usual in the renaissance period. High notes outside of the 'normal' range (chiavette) are played as notated and not transposed down. This high pitch and the special construction technique define the bright and silvery sound by which these instruments are characterised. They are evidence of an aesthetic that by avoiding a bass oriented sound in music clearly differs from that of the baroque period" (Susanne Scholz; translation slightly corrected).

The "bright and silvery sound" has consequences for the balance between voice and instruments. This is ensemble music: the singer who performs one of the parts should not act as 'soloist'. The sacred items are sung by Clarissa Thiem whose voice blends wonderfully with the violins. She sings in a kind of 'instrumental' style, but even so the text is pretty well understandable. In the secular items things are slightly different: Giovanni Cantarini has a stronger presence and is more a kind of soloist. However, the character of these songs is different and requires a more vivid and imaginative interpretation. That is exactly what Cantarini delivers. Both singers have very nice voices which are perfectly suited to this repertoire.

This disc has many virtues: music by a composer who is hardly known, an ensemble of instruments which is still pretty rare and - particularly in this case - is of great historical importance, and enjoyable performances. The fact that the booklet omits translations of the lyrics is a serious shortcoming, but should not prevent anyone from purchasing this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Giovanni Cantarini
chordae freybergensis

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