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"Zu S. Thomas"

amarcord

rec: Nov 2011 & Feb 2012, Leipzig, Thomaskirche
Raumklang - RK ap 10112 ( 2012) (70'11")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

plainchant: Missa in dedicatione ecclesiae; Missa in festo S. Thomae Apostoli

Wolfram Lattke, Martin Lattke, tenor; Frank Ozimek, baritone; Daniel Knauft, Holger Krause, bass

The Thomasschule in Leipzig and its choir exist for more than 800 years. Its fame is first and foremost based on Johann Sebastian Bach taking the position of Thomaskantor from 1723 until his death. Only gradually the music of his predecessors from the 17th and early 18th centuries have become better known. However, we know very little about the early stages in the history of the choir, for instance what repertoire was sung. Therefore the present disc is highly interesting as it includes two masses from the so-called Thomas-Gradual.

It is a liturgical manuscript consisting of 215 folios from the library of St Thomas Church which is now preserved in the library of Leipzig University. The main part of the manuscript which contains the chants for celebrating Mass, probably dates from the early 14th century. It is not a choir book: it is pretty small and so is the print which makes it unlikely that more than a couple of singers have sung from it together. It is rather a book for the cantor as a copy of reference about what was to be sung, especially since some chants were only sung once a year. The singers sang from memory, with the cantor directing them with hand movements.

The manuscripts give some insight into the way of singing in northern parts of Europe, as Godehard Joppich, a specialist in plainchant and liturgy, observes. "The notes e and b are avoided in the Thomas Gradual almost as a matter of principle, and instead the melody is written a half-step higher on the notes f and c. In churches north of the Alps, which were becoming ever bigger, these expanded intervals could be intoned more powerfully."

Joppich sees two indications that this gradual was especially written for use in the Thomas School. It is St Thomas rather than St Peter who is the apostle named to represent all the apostles in the Litany of the Saints on Holy Saturday. In addition one of the sequences in the appendix is about St Thomas. This means that the book gives a good impression of the kind of repertoire the singers of St Thomas sang and about the quality of the choir.

The connection with St Thomas was also the reason to choose the Apostle Mass from the collection. "[At] that time it was common to celebrate the feast day of each apostle with a great deal of ceremony". The other work is the Mass for the Dedication of a Church, a significant part of the church calendar. These two masses only include the propers - the chants which change for each day and feast. On the last page of this Gradual instructions about what Ordinary is to be sung are given. For both masses the same Ordinary should be used. For this recording the Ordinary in the book is used only in the Apostle Mass and, in order to avoid duplication, an alternative Ordinary has been taken for the other Mass.

Some of the Ordinary chants in this Gradual are different from what was common and what is still in use today. In the Kyrie included in the Apostle Mass the last Kyrie is extended by the word ymas: "Lord, have mercy upon us". There are also differences in the text of some versions of the Gloria. The phrase 'Domine Fili unigenite, Jesu Christe' is extended with the words 'et sancte Spiritus'. Both Glorias in this recording include this extension.

The Missa in dedicatione ecclesiae begins with the Introitus on the text 'Terribilis est locus iste': "Terrible is this place, it is the house of God and gate of heaven". After the Kyrie and Gloria we hear the Gradual 'Locus iste': "This place was made by God". It is followed by the Alleluia and the Sequence 'Psallat ecclesia': "May the church, faultless mother and immaculate virgin, sing in honour of this church" - a text by Notker Balbulus. The Offertory 'Domine Deus is on texts from both books of Chronicles from the Old Testament. After Sanctus and Agnus Dei the Mass concludes with the Communion 'Domus mea': "My house shall be called a house of prayer, says the Lord". The texts are from St Matthew and Psalm 84.

The Missa in festo S. Thomae Apostoli opens with the Introitus 'Mihi autem': "Yet to me your friends are greatly honoured, O God". Kyrie and Gloria follow and then we hear the Gradual 'Nimis honorati'; the content is the same as in the Introitus. Both are based on texts from Psalm 139. The Alleluia is followed by the Sequence 'Gaude felix india': "Rejoice, happy India, radiant through the memorial of the Apostle Thomas". According to tradition Thomas preached the Gospel outside the Roman Empire, travelling as far as India. The text of the Sequence includes several references to this. Next follow the Sanctus and Agnus Dei and the Mass ends with the Communion 'Amen dico vobis': "Truly, I say to you, that you who have set all things aside and followed me, shall receive a hundred times over and shall possess eternal life".

Amarcord is a German ensemble whose members were once singers in the Thomanerchor. Obviously they were highly motivated to record this repertoire. One could ask whether these Masses were sung by such a small ensemble as amarcord, but it seems unlikely that this question will ever be answered. The ensemble has a wide repertoire, among which the polyphony of the renaissance takes an important role. Even so, singing plainchant requires a specific approach. Since a number of years they work together with Godehard Joppich, and that has resulted in a very fine and really 'authentic' performance. Among them the shaping of the lines, true legato singing and attention to the text are essential elements. The efforts put into this production have well paid off.

This is a highly important disc from every angle: historically, liturgically and musically.

Johan van Veen ( 2014)

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