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Melchior Vulpius & Melchior Franck: Motets

[I] Melchior VULPIUS (c1570 - 1615): Cantiones Sacrae II - Motets for six and seven voices
Capella Daleminzia
Dir: René Michael Röder
rec: August 22 - Sept 3, 2016, Waldheim (D), Stadtkirche St. Nicolai
Querstand - VKJK 1701 (2 CDs) (© 2018) (1.39'05")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: D
Cover & track-list

[Sex vocum] Ad te Domine clamantes; Adiuva nos Deus; Auro non emitur mulier; Beatus vir; Cui merito parent coelum; Domine Deus Zebaoth; Domine salvum me fac; Ecce adduxerunt ei paralyticum; Exaltate Dominum Deum nostrum; Exurgens autem Maria; Incipiente autem rege conferre rationem; Iohannes missis duobus discipulis; Nuptiae factae sunt; O lux beata Trinitas; Primas quidam venit ad Iesum; Qui diligitis Dominum odite malum; Spes mea semper erit Christus; ; Ut quidi Deus repulisti in finem; Vocem iucunditatis unnunciate
[Septem vocum] Cantate Domino canticum novum; Confitebor tibi; Grates nunc omnes reddamus; Iubilate Deo, omnis terra; Prope est Dominus

Kathleen Danke, Susanne Röder, soprano; Christine Mothes, mezzo-soprano; Stefan Kunath, alto; Michael Schaffrath, Christoph Burmester, tenor; Markus Häntzschel, baritone; Johannes G. Schmidt, Georg Finger, bass
Idoia Bengoa, recorder, dulcian; Juan Ullibarri, Franziska Jacknau, cornett; Julia Nagel, Yosuke Kurihara, Thomas zur Lage, sackbut; Georg Zeike, Carsten Hundt, violin; Maximilian Ehrhardt, harp; Christopher Berensen, harpsichord, organ; René Michael Röder, organ

[II] Melchior FRANCK (1579 - 1639): Geistliche Gesäng und Melodeyen
Cantus Thuringia; Capella Thuringia; Lachrimae Consort Weimar
Dir: Christoph Dittmar
rec: June 21 - 23, 2016, Gräfenroda (D), St. Laurentius Kirche
deutsche harmonia mundi - 19439706492 (© 2020) (70'38")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Da ging meine Seele heraus a 6; Der Gerechte kommt um a 8; Er küsse mich a 5; Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab a 8; Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, Herr a 8; Ich beschwöre euch, ihr Töchter a 5; Ich bin schwarz, aber gar lieblich a 6; Ich schlafe, aber mein Herz wachet a 8; Ich sucht' des Nachts in meinem Bette a 6; Komm, mein Freund a 6; Mein Freund komme a 6; Sage du mir an a 5; Setze mich wie ein Siegel a 6; Siehe, meine Freundin a 8; Steh auf, meine Freundin a 8; Was ist dein Freund für andern Freunden a 8; Wie schön und lieblich a 5; Wo ist denn dein Freund hingegangen a 6 Wohl dem, der ein Tugendsam Weib hat a 8

[CanTh] Margaret Hunter, Anna Kellnhofer, soprano; Christoph Dittmar, Beat Duddeck, alto; Benjamin Glaubitz, Mirko Ludwig, tenor; Carsten Krüger, Matthias Lutze, bass
[CapTh] Friederike Otto, cornett; Matthioas Sprinz, Clemens Erdmann, Tural Ismayilov, sackbut; Imke David, Dietrich Haböck, Marthe Perl, Matthias Müller, viola da gamba
[LCW] Silvia Müller, Silvia Schulke, Antonie Schlegel, Johanna Krüger, Friedericke Vollert, recorder

The two composers who are the subject of the discs under review here, were not only contemporaries, but they also share the fate of being largely neglected in our time. German music from the early decades of the 17th century does not receive that many attention anyway, certainly not outside Germany. The main exceptions are Heinrich Schütz and Michael Praetorius, and the sacred madrigals which Johann Hermann Schein published under the title of Israelis Brünlein are also regularly performed. That attention is well deserved, as they are some of the best composers of their time, but there is much more to discover. Even an earlier master as Hans Leo Hassler is not well represented on disc. From that perspective, it does not surprise that a large part of the repertoire on these two discs makes its first appearance in commercial recordings.

Melchior Vulpius was born around 1570 as the son of a craftsman, called Fuchs, in Wasingen, a town in the Schmalkalden-Meiningen district, in Thuringia. Here he attended the municipal school, and then continued his studies in Speyer. In 1589 he received an appointment at the Hennebergisches Gymnasium in Schleusingen. In 1596 he moved to Weimar, where he became Kantor and teacher of music and Latin at the municipal school and the parish church St Peter und Paul.

Weimar was one of the main towns of Thuringia. It was one of the seats, and since 1586 the only seat, of the court of the Ernestine line of the House of Wettin. Duke Frederick the Wise (1463-1525), who was Elector of Saxony, was one of the earliest and strongest supporters of Martin Luther. His brother Johann I was the first to sign the Augsburg Confession in June 1530. Since 1527 he acted as Lutheran bishop in his territory. Its court chapel was of excellent quality. Among the composers who acted as Kapellmeister, were Adam von Fulda, Johann Walther and Paul Hofhaimer. The repertoire mainly consisted of music by representatives of the Franco-Flemish school, such as Obrecht, Josquin and La Rue. In Vulpius' time the parish church was the official church of the court. The repertoire was extended by music of the likes of Lassus, Hassler and the Gabrielis.

Vulpius' oeuvre is of considerable size. Between 1595 and 1610 he published four collections with motets and sacred concertos on Latin texts, and between 1604 and 1621 four collections of hymns, sacred songs and motets on German texts. In addition he composed music for special occasions, such as weddings and funerals. Although in the course of his life the new concertato style, which emerged in Italy around 1600, made its entrance in Germany, Vulpius never adopted any of its features, such as the use of a basso continuo or the monodic writing for solo voices. His music is strictly written in the stile antico, in which all the parts are treated on equal footing. In his treatment of the text, though, he is clearly inspired by the art of the Italian madrigalists of the late 16th century. His music was well received, witness the reprints of several collections and the inclusion of single pieces in anthologies.

In 2016 Querstand released the first two volumes of what was to become a complete recording of Vulpius's three sets of Cantiones Sacrae. They included the complete Cantiones Sacrae of 1602 (reprinted in 1610), and in 2018 these were followed by the first part of the recording of the Cantiones Sacrae of 1603 (reprinted in 1610/11). The motets are scored for six to fourteen voices; the twofer under review includes the motets for six and seven voices. The scoring for six voices was very common at the time, and allowed for a splitting up of the ensemble in two sections, consisting of the higher and the lower voices respectively, which was especially useful for the setting of texts with the character of a dialogue.

That is especially the case in settings of texts from the New Testament, such as the parables Jesus told during his encounters with the people. Vulpius also set texts from the Old Testament, in particular the Book of Psalms, as well as extra-biblical texts. The booklet includes references to the Sundays or feast days for which the motets are written, but the liner-notes don't indicate whether these references are taken from Vulpius' editions or are added for this recording.

The motets are performed in different line-ups, from a capella to a mixture of voices and instruments. I was quite happy with the first two volumes, and I have no reason to change my opinion with regard to this third volume. The singing and playing is excellent, and the connections between text and music are not lost on the interpreters. Like in the previous volumes, the text should have been more clearly intelligible. However, that is the only issue here, although certainly not a negligable one. It does not prevent me from strongly recommending this set of discs. Vulpius is unjustly neglected, and this project is a fine attempt to put that right. So far I haven't seen any announcements of further volumes. It would be a big shame if this project would strand halfway.

Melchior Franck was born as son of a painter in Zittau, where he may have studied under Christoph Demantius. Little is known for sure about the early stages of his career, but around 1600 he was a member of the choir of St Anna Church in Augsburg. Here he may have been a pupil of Adam Gumpelzhaimer, Christian Erbach and Hans-Leo Hassler. The connection with Hassler seems without much doubt: both went to Nuremberg in 1601, and Franck's oeuvre shows the influence of Hassler. One the one hand there is the style of the Franco-Flemish school which Hassler had inherited from his teacher Leonhard Lechner, on the other hand Franck made use of the antiphonal style of the Gabrielis which Hassler had studied in Venice.

In 1602 or 1603 Franck became Kapellmeister of Duke Johann Casimir of Saxe-Coburg who was a great music lover. It was here that the Thirty Years War affected Franck's life. In the 1630s the city and its surroundings were destroyed and the economy ruined. Moreover, the Duke died in 1633, whereas Franck himself lost his wife and two children. The new Duke, Johann Ernst, was less passionate about music and also was forced to take drastic measures to restore the economy. The court chapel was much reduced, and so was Franck's salary. He died poverty-stricken in 1639.

Franck was a very productive composer: between 1601 and 1636 forty collections of motets were printed. His oeuvre also shows a wide variety of genres: sacred music on Latin and German texts, occasional compositions, secular vocal music and instrumental music. In his vocal music Franck pays much attention to the text, and in this respect he points into the direction of Heinrich Schütz. Unlike Vulpius, Franck adopted the newest trends from Italy, but only in the later stages of his career. The music which is the subject of the disc under review here is entirely written in the stile antico.

The Geistliche Gesäng und Melodeyen were published in Coburg in 1608. It consists of 24 motets for five, six and eight voices; 19 motets are on texts from the Song of Songs. The choice of texts may raise some questions. In the Catholic church there was a kind of dichotomy with regard to the Song of Songs. It embraced the allegorical interpretation and considered the texts useful to strengthen the faith of the people, but various translators of these texts into the vernacular came into conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities. The same kind of ambidexterity can be observed in Lutheran circles. Whereas the Catholic church identified the young woman with Mary and Christ with the young man, representing the church, Martin Luther returned to the allegorical interpretation of the early church. In the foreword to his translation of the Hohelied Salomos, he states that "this booklet describes in guarded terms the great love and blessings, which Christ, the heavenly bridegroom of his spiritual bride, renders the dear Christian churches here on earth, and every verse needs a special interpretation (...)". The Lutheran theologian Johann Gerhard, who penned the 'Foreword to the Christian Reader' of Melchior Franck's collection, even declared the text to be unsuitable for children: "[Nevertheless] it should also be noted that God's spirit in this same book does not speak to the infants in Christ, who are still fed with milk." Franck himself, in the dedication of this collection, stated: "And I have set and had published in musical compositions this Song of Solomon that can be performed and used in honour of God and holy wedlock as well as lovingly for solace in the church". This comment seems to suggest that this collection was written for a wedding.

These motets include many passages of graphic text illustration. Some striking examples can be found in Stehe auf, meine Freundin, Was ist dein Freund für andern Freunden and Ich beschwöre euch, ihr Töchter. These come off perfectly in these performances, which are strongly rhetorical. The singers pay much attention to the text. The line-up is different: in most cases the singers are supported by instruments. Three different consorts participate: cornetts and sackbuts, viols or recorders. In some pieces they join each other, and a few pieces are performed with a broken consort. The instruments mostly play colla voce, but in some one or two voices are performed by a soloist, with the instruments taking care of the remaining parts.

It is a shame that not the entire collection could be recorded. In the booklet Christoph Dittmar refers to another recording which includes five of these pieces; only one of these is performed here as well. He does not mention which recording he refers to. Last year I reviewed a disc of the ensemble Voces Suaves (also on deutsche harmonia mundi), which includes no fewer than eight pieces from the same collection; it is regrettable that only one of them is omitted here. One can't blame Dittmar, as he recorded his selection one year before Voces Suaves. Apparently, there is little coordination at Sony Music's office. I also should mention a disc by the French ensemble Sagittarius, which includes fourteen motets from this same collection, among them four that are omitted here. As one will probably have noticed, the collection also comprises three motets which are not intended for a wedding, but rather a funeral, among them the impressive Der Gerechte kommt um, which comes to a moving end on the words "[Those] who walk in their uprightness enter into peace, and rest in their beds".

These pieces are very different from the others, but are given incisive and equally convincing performances. This disc is no less recommendable than the Vulpius set, and Franck is again a composer, whose oeuvre deserves to be thoroughly explored. The present disc is a worthy monument for this master of the early Baroque in Germany.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

Relevant links:

Cantus & Capella Thuringia
Lachrimae Consort Weimar

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