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Johann CRÜGER (1598-1662): "Wach auff mein Hertz und singe - CrügerConcertChoräle 1649/1657"

Musicalische Compagney
Dir: Holger Eichhorn

rec: Nov 19, 1984, Berlin, Studio SFB; Oct 13, 2014, Basedow, Dorfkirchea; Jan 19, 2015, Berlin-Moabit, St. Johannis-Kirche
Querstand - VKJK 1527 (© 2015) (69'38")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list
Score 1649

anon: Fantasia in d minora; Johann CRÜGER: Ach Gott vom Himmel sieh darein; Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr; Auf auf mein Herz mit Freuden; Aus meines Herzens Grunde; Die Sonn hat sich mit ihrem Glanz gewendet; Erbarm dich mein o Herre Gott; Erschienen ist der herrlich Tag; Erstanden ist der heilig Christ; Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen; Gelobet seist du Jesu Christ; Gott der Vater wohn uns bei; Heut sind die lieben Engelein; Jauchzt Gott mit Herzensfreud; Komm heiliger Geist Herre Gott; Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist; Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her; Wach auf mein Herz und singe; Wilhelm KARGES (1613/14-1699): Capriccio in Ga; Fantasia in d minora; Praeludium 4. tonia

Sources: Johann Crüger, Geistliche Kirchen-Melodeien über die von Herrn D. Luthero sel. und andern vornehmen und gelehrten Leuten aufgesetzte geist- und trostreiche Gesänge und Psalmen, 1649, 1657

Pascal Pfeifer, Julian Karlbauer, soprano; David Cordier, Thomas Riede, alto; Christian Mücke, Jan Hübner, tenor; Georg Lutz, bass; Hans-Peter Westermann, cornett; Holger Eichhorn, cornett, sackbut; Irina Kisselova, Ingrid Richter, violin; Wolfgang König, Georg Zboron, Thomas Wiedermann, sackbut; Klaus Eichhorn, sackbut; organ (soloa); Andreas Hetze, harpsichord, regal; Gerhard Kastner, Torsten Übelhör, organ

In 2017 the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation will be celebrated. In the build-up to the commemoration of this event several discs with chorales (hymns) have been released - including the present one - and there can be no doubt that more will follow. This can be explained from the fact that the chorale took a major role in religious life in Protestant Germany and was one of the main elements of Luther's liturgical reforms. Two elements in Luther's views on liturgy are especially important: the use of the vernacular and the role of the congregation. He started to write and publish hymns in the early 1520s. His example was followed by others, for instance Johann Walter. Sometimes texts were provided with music right from the start. Other texts were set to music much later. The content can vary widely. Some hymns express the doctrines of the Lutheran Reformation. Others are prayers to God or intended to comfort the faithful in times of crisis, such as war and epidemic.

The present disc sheds light on the activities of one of the main exponents of hymn-writing in Protestant Germany. Johann Crüger was born in Gross-Breesen, near Guben, today a small town in the German state of Brandenburg, at the Polish border. Here he lived until he was 15; he then moved to Regensburg where he was a pupil of Paul Homberger who probably had studied with Giovanni Gabrieli. Next he visited Austria, Hungary and Bratislava, Moravia, Bohemia and Saxony. After that he studied theology in Wittenberg and then went to Berlin. In 1622 he was appointed Kantor at the Nikolaikirche. He held this position until his death. In 1619 and 1620 he published two pieces of wedding music, followed in 1622 by a collection of secular songs. His main contribution to music history are his collections with sacred music, especially settings and arrangements of hymns.

In 1640 and 1647 two collections with hymns were printed. These were the first in which the hymns were printed with a basso continuo part. The second volume, entitled Praxis pietatis melica, included 15 texts by the poet Paul Gerhardt who was to become one of the most important authors of hymn texts of the 17th century. Several of his texts are still very well known, such as Befiehl du deine Wege, Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier and O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden. For about twenty years the two men cooperated closely in the creation of hymns for liturgical use, especially during the six years they were both connected to the Nikolaikirche. Crüger wrote the melodies for several of Gerhardt's hymns, such as Wie soll ich dich empfangen and Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen. Other melodies by Crüger which are still famous today are Nun danket alle Gott and Jesu, meine Freude.

The 1647 collection was reissued in 1649 as Geistliche Kirchen-Melodeien. In this edition Crüger had added two virtuosic instrumental parts for violins or cornetts. Another collection came from the press in 1657. Although the repertoire in all three collections is basically the same there are some meaningful differences. The 1649 edition not only includes instrumental parts, it also offers only the first stanza of each hymn. That shows that this edition is an alternative to the 1647 collection: if performers wanted to sing more stanzas of a hymn they could simply turn to the 1647 edition. In his liner-notes Holger Eichhorn states that the differences between the two editions suggests that the second was not a hymnal. These two editions could also be used for the then common alternatim practice as the 1647 edition includes only the melody and the basso continuo. Crüger also offers several suggestions in regard to scoring. The hymns can be performed by a solo voice (discantist or tenor), two violins and a violone alongside a "foundation instrument" (meaning a keyboard for the basso continuo) and also with four voices and instruments with instruments "played simultaneously" (meaning colla voce). These are only two options; in this recording several others are also practised.

As one can see in the header these recordings date from different years. The oldest are from 1984; here David Cordier is the only singer with an instrumental ensemble of sackbuts and bc. In some tracks the recordings of 1984 and those of 2015 are mixed: one stanza from the one and then one from the other. The differences in sound are noticeable without being really problematic. However, the tracklist is rather obscure; I have not tried to figure out exactly which piece has been recorded at which date. As one can expect from the Musicalische Compagney the upper voices are sung by boys; the two trebles are from the Tölzer Knabenchor, definitely the best of its kind in German baroque repertoire. All the singers are excellent, both in their solos as in ensemble. The balance between voices and instruments is satisfying; only sometimes the cornetts are probably a little too dominant. These parts and those of the violins receive outstanding performances; their brilliance comes off very clearly here.

The programme is divided into a number of chapters, each of which is devoted to a part of the ecclesiastical year. All but the last close with an organ piece. Three of them are from the pen of Wilhelm Karges. He was born in Berlin and through visits to Hamburg and Lübeck he became acquainted with the north German organ school and the influence of Sweelinck. In 1646 he was appointed chamber musician and composer at the court of the Elector Friedrich Wilhelm of Brandenburg in Berlin. At about the same time he may have taken up the post of cathedral organist. The Capriccio in G, the Fantasia in d minor and the Praeludium 4. toni are therefore logical choices. The anonymous composer of the Fantasia in d may also be a representative of the north German organ school: he makes use of the echo technique which shows the influence of Sweelinck. Klaus Eichhorn delivers fine performances at the organ of the church of Basedow which dates from 1683 and is in meantone temperament which is clearly noticeable in the spicy harmony of the organ works.

The main composer on this disc is Johann Crüger, though, and he definitely deserves much more attention. I have never encountered a disc entirely devoted to his oeuvre but the quality of what is presented here makes one want more.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Musicalische Compagney

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