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Johann Caspar KERLL & Johann Joseph FUX: Requiems

Vox Luminis; L'Achéron (François Joubert-Caillet)a; Scorpio Collectief (Simen Van Mechelen)b
Dir: Lionel Meunier

rec: Oct 2015, Stavelot, Église Saint-Sébastienb; Nov 2015, Beaufays, Église Saint Jean-Baptistea
Ricercar - RIC 368 (© 2016) (65'33")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - no translations
Cover, track-list & booklet
Score Fux

Johann Joseph FUX (1660-1741): Requiem in c minor 'Kaiserrequiem' (K 51-53)b; Johann Caspar KERLL (1627-1693): Missa pro defunctisa

[VL] Sara Jäggiab, Zsuzsi Tóthab, Stefanie Trueb, Kirsten Witmerb, soprano; Barnabás Hegyiab, Jan Kullmannab, alto; Olivier Bertenab, Robert Bucklandab, Philippe Froeligera, Dávid Szigetvária, tenor; Matthias Lutzeab, Lionel Meunierab, bass; Bart Jacobs, organa
[L'Achéron] François Joubert-Caillet, Marie-Suzanne de Loye, Andreas Linos, Lucile Boulanger, viola da gamba
[SC] Josue Melendez, Frithjof Smith, mute cornetts; Jacek Kurzydlo, Jivka Kaltcheva, violin; Manuela Bucher, viola; Simen Van Mechelen, Adam Woolf, sackbut; Jérémie Papasergio, bassoon; Matthias Müller, violone; Kris Verhelst, organb

Throughout history many composers have written masses for regular use in the liturgy. Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina was one of the most productive composers of masses in the renaissance period. In the baroque era the number of masses is much smaller. We may assume that in many cases Mass was sung in plainchant. A special form of mass is the Requiem. Not that many settings of this text have been written: Palestrina composed just one, and his colleague Lassus only two. Requiem masses were mostly written for specific persons or occasions. That was also the case with the so-called Kaiserrequiem by Johann Joseph Fux; in the case of the Missa pro defunctis by Johann Caspar Kerll the reason of its composition is less clear.

Both composers were in the service of the imperial court in Vienna, but at different times. Johann Caspar Kerll was one of his time's most important composers of sacred and keyboard music. Born in Saxony he worked most of his life in Munich and Vienna. His compositions were written under Italian influence. His first teacher was Giovanni Valentini in Vienna, and when he was organist at the court of Archduke Leopold Wilhelm in Brussels his employer sent him to Rome to study with Giacomo Carissimi. In 1656 he went back to Munich where he became Kapellmeister. In Munich he composed a number of operas which are all lost. In 1673 he resigned and went to Vienna, where he became organist at the imperial court. Towards the end of his life he returned to Munich where he also died.

Eighteen masses by Kerll have been preserved. Some of these have been recorded; one of the most impressive is the Missa In fletu solatium obsidionis Viennensis which he wrote during the Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683. This was just one of the disasters Kerll experienced while working in Vienna. Another was the plague which hit the town between 1679 and 1682. The Missa pro defunctis is included in Kerll's last published collection of 1689 which also contained five ordinary masses. This edition is dedicated to Kerll's employer, emperor Leopold I, but that does not indicate that this Requiem was written for him. The basso continuo part includes a statement in which the composer writes that he wants this mass and the sequence Dies irae to be sung "for the repose of my soul" and added: "[May] they also console others on my behalf". This suggests that Kerll composed the Missa pro defunctis for himself in the first place.

The title page very specifically indicates the line-up Kerll had in mind: five solo voices with additional ripienists and instruments which play a concertante role. The fact that the sequence Dies irae is expressly mentioned indicates that it was not always included. It is also notable that Kerll's setting is in some ways different from the other parts of the Requiem. It is in a different key, it is for four voices rather than five, there are more episodes for solo voices - also in the form of duets and trios - and the instruments play a more independent role. This suggests that it may have been written separately and was later inserted into the Requiem. In the second verse from the sequence, the text "Quantus tremor est futurus" (great trembling there will be) is illustrated by a tremolo in the vocal solo part and the instrumental parts.

The Missa pro defunctis has a rather intimate and somewhat dark character which is also due to the vocal scoring including two tenor parts, and the instrumental parts being intended for viols. These factors create a marked contrast between Kerll's Missa pro defunctis and Fux's Kaiserrequiem. The latter's vocal scoring includes two soprano parts and only one part for tenor. Moreover, the instrumental forces comprise two cornetts and two sackbuts, plus two violins and viola instead of the softer-edged viols. This Requiem is one of nine which Fux composed; four of them have been lost.

Fux studied at Graz University and later moved to Ingolstadt. In the latter town he acted as organist at St Moritz until 1689. His whereabouts between that year and 1696 are not known. In the late 1690s he moved to Vienna where in 1698 emperor Joseph I appointed him court composer. This is all the more remarkable as since the early 17th century musical life at the court was dominated by musicians from Italy. In 1711, after the death of Joseph, Fux was appointed vice-Hofkapellmeister, and in 1715 Charles VI appointed him Hofkapellmeister, a position he held until his death.

Fux was one of the most prolific composers of the baroque era. The list of his works in New Grove is very long. Only a small portion is available on disc. If his music is performed and recorded it is often the same repertoire which is chosen. The Kaiserrequiem is part of the better-known part of his oeuvre. It was recorded in 1995 by the Clemencic Consort and in 2009 by Roland Wilson with La Capella Ducale and Musica Fiata.

The Kaiserrequiem was originally written for the funeral of empress Leonora in 1720 and was used again for several other funerals: in 1736 for Prince Eugen of Savoyen and in 1740 for emperor Charles VI. It was also performed for several years on All Saints' Day. It comprises the same parts as Kerll's Missa pro defunctis: Introitus, Kyrie, Dies irae, Domine Jesu Christe, Sanctus and Benedictus, Agnus Dei and Lux aeterna.

The solo voices play a more prominent role than in Kerll's Requiem. There is also a juxtaposition of the solo voices in ensemble and the ripieno forces. The largest part of the Requiem is the sequence Dies irae, which is divided into a number of sections of different scorings. There are several passages with striking text illustration. As is to be expected we hear a sackbut in Tuba mirum, but its sound is also imitated in the alto part. Contrasts in metre and key, pauses and a contrast between homophonic and polyphonic passages are also used to express the text.

These are pretty much ideal performances. These Requiems are not scored for solo voices and instrumental accompaniment. This is music for an ensemble of voices and instruments and that is reflected by the perfect balance between these two groups and the complete integration of singers and instrumentalists. The intimate character of Kerll's Missa pro defunctis comes off perfectly and results in a very moving performance. In Fux's Kaiserrequiem Wilson is probably a little more extroverted than Vox Luminis but I like both performances. The latter's members are outstanding in their interpretation of the solo parts.

This is an impressive disc and once again Vox Luminis proves to be one of our time's best vocal ensembles at the early music scene.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

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