musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Music from the time of the Reformation

[I] "Und wenn die Welt voll teuffel wer - Musik um Luther" (And if the world were full of devils - Music around Luther)
La Villanella Basel
rec: Sept 2016, Panitzsch (D), church
Querstand - VKJK 1705 (© 2017) (60'23")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

anon: Welscher Tantz; Antoine BUSNOYS (v1435-1492): Fortuna desperata; Heinrich ISAAC (c1450-1517): Palle palle; JOSQUIN DESPREZ (c1450-1521): Mille regretz; Leonhard KLEBER (c1495-1556): Ave Maria (Josquin Desprez); Jacob OBRECHT (c1457-1505): Tandernaken; plainchant: Pange lingua; Ludwig SENFL (c1490-1543): Dich als mich selbst; Fortuna desperata/Herr durch dein Blut; Herr durch dein Blut; Im meien; Unseglich schmertz; Ludwig SENFL / Sixtus DIETRICH (c1494-1548): Ach Elslein, liebes Elselein mein; Ludwig SENFL / Thomas STOLTZER (c1475-1526): Ich stund an einem Morgen; Johann WALTER (1496-1570): Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir; Da pacem Domine; Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott; Ein neues Lied wir heben an

Kathleen Danke, soprano; Tobias Hunger, tenor; Claudia Nauheim, recorder; Laura Frey, Irene Klein, viola da gamba; Mechthild Winter, virginal, organ

[II] "Bis an der Welt ihr Ende - Deutsche Lieder der Reformationszeit" (To the end of the earth - German songs of the Reformation period)
Dir: Sabine Lutzenberger
rec: Feb 14 - 16, 2017, Blaibach (D), Konzerthaus Blaibach
Christophorus - CHR 77410 (© 2017) (68'49")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet

[in order of appearance]
[Martin Luther & Ludwig Senfl] Martin LUTHER (1483-1546): Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (arr Marc Lewon) [2]; Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir (arr Marc Lewon) [1]; Ludwig SENFL (c1490-1543): Was wird es doch des Wunders noch; Ich stund an einem Morgen [3]; anon: La Monina
[The 'new German song' and Orlandus Lassus] Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Wach auf, wach auf, o Menschenkind [8]; Domini est terra [8]; Hans NEUSIDLER (c1508-1563): Was wird es doch des Wunders noch; Orlandus LASSUS: Verba mea auribus [8]; Sine textu 23 [6]
[Leonhard Lechner & Hans-Leo Hassler] Hans-Leo HASSLER (1564-1612): Ach Schatz, ich sing und lache [10]; Mein Gemüt ist mir verwirret [10]; Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist [1]; anon: Saltarello [5]; Giacomo GORZANIS (c1520-1575/79): Saltarello [4]; Leonhard LECHNER (c1553-1606): Ach herzigs Herz [7]; Ach Lieb und Leid [7]; Dieweil Gott ist mein Zuversicht [9]
[The new time and Johann Hermann Schein] Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630): Allemande - Tripla [12]; Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein; Ach Gott und Herr [13]

Sources: [1] Johannes Loersfeld, ed., Eyn Enchiridion, 1524; [2] Form und Ordnung geistlicher Gesang und Psalmen, 1529; [3] Hieronymus Formschneider, ed., Trium vocum carmina, 1538; [4] Giacomo Gorzanis, Intabolatura di liuto, Libro primo, 1561; [5] Lautenbuch Octavian Secundus Fugger, 1562; [6] Orlandus Lassus, Novae aliquot, ad duas voces cantiones, 1577; [7] Leonhard Lechner, Newe Teutsche Lieder nach Art der Welschen Villanellen, 1577; [8] Orlandus Lassus, Newe Teutsche Lieder, 1583; [9] Leonhard Lechner, Neue Geistliche & Weltliche Teutsche Lieder, 1589; Hans-Leo Hassler, [10] Lustgarten Neuer teutscher Gesäng, 1601; [11] Psalmen und geistliche Lieder, 1608; Johann Hermann Schein, [12] Banchetto Musicale, 1617; [13] Cantional- oder Gesangbuch Augspurgischer Confession, 1627

Sabine Lutzenberger, soprano; Joel Frederiksen, bass; Baptiste Romain, renaissance violin; Caroline Ritchie, viola da gamba, lirone; Marc Lewon, viola d'arco, lute

The 500 year anniversary of the Reformation has certainly not passed by unnoticed, and that includes its influence on the course of music history. The last couple of years a whole number of discs have landed on my desk. They show a wide variety in repertoire and concept, and that also goes for the two discs which are reviewed here.

The title of the disc of La Villanella Basel is taken from Martin Luther's most famous hymn, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. The programme opens with a setting of this hymn by Johann Walter, Luther's main companion in liturgical matters. His music not only opens the programme, but also closes it, with Da pacem Domine, which includes another famous Lutheran hymn, Erhalt uns Herr bei deinem Wort and ends with the German version of the Latin hymn: Verleih uns Frieden. In between we find secular and instrumental pieces by composers who in one way or another can be connected to Luther. Obviously Josquin Desprez is one of them. Not only was he by far the most famous composer of his time, but he was also the reformer's personal favourite. His motet Ave Maria was already one of his best-known pieces in his own time. It is performed here in an organ intabulation by Leonhard Kleber. That is an interesting alternative to the original vocal version, which has been recorded numerous times. Another famous piece by Josquin is the chanson Mille regretz; it was nicknamed 'the emperor's song', as it was a personal favourite of Emperor Charles V. Its inclusion is not without irony, considering that he was one of Luther's main and most vehement opponents.

Ludwig Senfl and Martin Luther met at the Reichstag in Augsburg in 1518. Luther admired the compositions of the Swiss-born composer, and the latter wrote a motet for the reformer. It has given rise to speculation about Senfl's embracing the ideas of Luther, but that is hard to prove. However, there can be little doubt that Senfl was strongly in favour of a religious peace and tolerance between the opposing confessions. Senfl has become especially known for his contributions to a then important genre, the Tenorlied, a secular polyphonic song with the melody in the tenor. This disc includes several specimens of this genre; the most famous of them is Ach Elßlein, liebes Elßelein. A famous tune at the time was Fortuna desperata, which was often used as a cantus firmus for masses. Senfl used it more than once for compositions of various nature, including the sacred song Herr durch dein Blut. Also included in this five-part piece is the hymn for the Feast of Corpus Christi, Pange lingua.

These pieces are performed in a mixture of voices - soprano and tenor - and instruments. This attempt to put Luther in his historical context with a mixture of sacred and secular music is much more convincing than that of the Calmus Ensemble and the Lautten Compagney Berlin. That is not only due to a better selection of music, but also much better performances. Both soprano and tenor have very fine voices and sing with great clarity and flexibility. The text is always clearly intelligible. There seems a little inconsistency in the pronunciation department. Sometimes the old texts seem to be pronounced as they are written, but in Senfl's Dich als mich selbst several words have been modernized. There is also some very nice playing, and the mixture of voices and instruments works rather well. All in all, this is one of the better contributions to the commemoration of the Reformation, and the fact that the programme includes several little-known items is another reason to add this disc to your collection.

Ludwig Senfl turns up again in the recording of Per-Sonat, directed by Sabine Lutzenberger. Here the connection between the music and Luther is not always that close. "Our programme reflects the influence of the reformation period on sacred and secular songs, changing contemporary taste and the italian euphoria in the 16th and start of the 17th century in Germany." That is how Sabine Lutzenberger sums up the theme of this recording.

It opens with Luther and Senfl: first we hear two of the former's hymns, Ein feste Burg and Aus tiefer Not in harmonisations of the ensemble's lutenist, Marc Lewon. Then we get two further songs by Senfl: whereas Ich stuend an einem Morgen is a purely secular love song, Was wird es doch des Wunders noch has a moralistic tenor. The latter can be heard again later in the programm in a lute intabulation by Hans Neusidler. In the next section the central figure is Orlandus Lassus, one of the most famous and most productive composers of the second half of the 16th century. We know him best for his Latin sacred works, such as the poenitential psalms, or his last composition, the Lagrime di San Pietro. Here he is represented with music which seem to reflext the influence of the Reformation, even though Lassus has never shown any Lutheran leanings. However, the composition of sacred music in the vernacular was not a habit of Catholic composers; from that perspective Wach auff, wach auff O menschen Kind, based on a parabel from Matthew 20, is quite interesting. We also get two pieces from the collection Newe Teutsche Lieder: not secular songs, but psalm settings on German texts, despite the Latin titles. The texts are from the pen of Caspar Ulenberg, who in 1582 published a Catholic Psalter, no doubt as an alternative to Ambrosius Lobwasser's German translation of the Genevan Psalter, which was published in 1573. This attests to the fact that the Catholic church acknowledged the importance of strophic and rhymed versions of the Psalms in the language of the people.

The third section is devoted to Hans-Leo Hassler, one of the first German composers who went to Italy to expand his horizon. The influence of the Venetian cori spezzati technique manifests itself in his oeuvre. Although he was in the service of the Catholic Fugger family for most of his life, he also wrote music which reflect the liturgical reforms of Luther. An example is Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist, Luther's German adaptation of the traditional sequence Veni sancte Spiritus. We hear several secular songs; Mein Gmueth ist mir verwirret is especially interesting, as its melody was later used for the hymn O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden. Leonhard Lechner was a pupil of Lassus, and he composed secular songs "in the style of southern european villanelles". Lechner converted to Lutheranism at the age of 18. The influence of his convictions come especially to the fore in several collections of songs in German, among them sacred pieces, such as Dieweil Gott ist mein Zuversicht.

The last section carries us to the next century. Two pieces from editions of 1622 and 1627 respectively show the increasing influence of congregational singing, in that the melody in his arrangements of hymns is always in the upper voice. The suggestion in the booklet that the congregation may have joined the choir in such pieces is highly debatable. It seems more likely that the placement of the melody in the upper voice was in the interest of recognizability, which also could have been part of an educational process.

Sabine Lutzenberger has put together an interesting programme, which includes various pieces which are hardly known. There is little wrong with the performances, but for several reasons I was slightly disappointed. First of all, the line-up is a bit one-sided: soprano, bass, renaissance violin, viola da gamba and lute. Most of the pieces are performed in the same line-up: soprano and instruments. Joel Frederiksen plays a minor role, and I don't find his voice very attractive. It also doesn't blend that well with Lutenberger's voice and the instruments. I would have liked to hear several items in a performance of four voices, which was quite common and may even have been the standard at the time. That goes especially for the psalm settings by Lassus. Moreover, Sabine Lutzenberger has a nice voice, but there is little variety in colour. That is less of a problem in an ensemble, but here I got a bit bored after a while. Therefore it is probably advisable not to listen to this disc at a stretch. All in all, as happy as I am about the choice of music, the performances are not as convincing as I would have liked.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

La Villanella Basel

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