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"Passages - German Ritual Music 1600-1800"

Dir: Lambert Colson

rec: Sept 2021, Gedinne (B), Église Notre-Dame
Ricercar - RIC 443 (© 2022) (77'32")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Johann Georg AHLE (1651-1706): Freudenlied (Auf Orgeln! Auf Zimbeln!); Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Herzlich tut mich verlangen (BWV 727); O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht (BWV 118); Dietrich BECKER (1623-1679): Traur- und Begräbnuß-Musik des Herrn Johann Helms; Ludwig VAN BEETHOVEN (1770-1827): Equale No. 1 in d minor (WoO 30,1) [Miserere mei Deus]; Equale No. 2 in D (WoO 30,2) [Du, dem nie im Leben Ruhstatt ward]; Equale No. 3 in B flat (WoO 30,3) [Amplius lava me]; Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Klage-Lied (BuxWV 76,2); Johann Philipp KRIEGER (1649-1725): Ich bin eine Blume zu Saron; Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Aurora lucis rutilat [1]; Martin MAYER (c1642-1709/12): Charfreytags Andacht (Da der Tag ein Ende nahm)a; Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654): Paduana dolorosa (SSWV 42) [2]; Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630): O Jesulein, mein Jesulein [3]; Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672): Fili mi, Absalon (SWV 269) [4]; Freue dich des Weibes deiner Jugend (SWV 453); O meine Seele, warum bist du betrübet (SWV 419); Christoph STRAUSS (c1575/80-1631): Haec dies

Sources: [1] Orlandus Lassus, Magnum opus musicum ... complectens omnes cantiones, 1604; [2] Samuel Scheidt, Paduana, galliarda, courante, alemande, intrada, canzonetto, ut vocant, in gratiam musices studiosorum, potissimum violistarum, 1621; [3] Johann Hermann Schein, Opella nova, ander Theil, geistlicher Concerten, 1626; [4] Heinrich Schütz, Symphoniae sacrae, 1629

Alice Foccroulle, Griet De Geyter, soprano; Bart Uvyn, alto; Vojtech Semerad, tenor; Thomas Lajtkep, tenor, sackbuta; Geoffroy Buffière, bass; Lambert Colson, Darren Moore, cornett; Guy Hanssen, Susanna Defendi, Charlotte Van Paassen, Bart Vroomen, Joost Swinkelsa, Simen Van Mechelena, Harry Riesa, sackbut; Anneke Scott, Alain de Rudder, corno da tirarsi; Marie Rouquié, violin; Nadine Heinrichs, viola; Liam Byrne, Thomas Baeté, viola da gamba; Edouard Catalan, Ronan Kernoa, bass violin; Marc Meisel, organ

Loud wind instruments have played a major role in music life from early times. That is not always discernible in the music, either in manuscript or in printed editions, as for a long time the participation of instruments was optional and if they were used, the choice of instruments was usually left to the performers. It was only in the second half of the 16th century that composers started to require instruments. However, even at that time, if specific instruments were mentioned, it was often more a suggestion than a prescription.

The disc under review focuses on German music of the 17th century, as that was the time instruments were given a more defined role. Generally speaking, the high cornetts and trumpets were used in music of a celebratory character, such as pieces for the feasts of Christmas and Easter, and in music written at special occasions, such as births, weddings and military victories. The lower wind instruments, especially sackbuts and dulcians, were used in music of a mournful character, in particular funerals. In Germany the genre of the lamento, which had its roots in Italian opera, flourished, and composers often included one or several viole da gamba or sackbuts in their scoring. These two instruments were sometimes interchangeable.

InAlto confines itself to cornetts and sackbuts; trumpets and dulcians don't participate. In addition two corni da tirarsi are played; more about that later. The pieces demonstrate the different roles of the respective instruments. The earliest piece is Aurora lucis rutilat, a motet for Easter, scored for ten voices in two choirs. The line-up is left to the performers, and here five singers are accompanied by two cornetts and four sackbuts; the bass part is supported with theorbo and organ. Christoph Strauss, on the other hand, does require instruments in his Easter motet Haec dies. The nine parts are divided into four high and five low voices; and some of them are allocated to cornetts or sackbuts. Freue dich des Weibes deiner Jugend is a sacred concerto by Heinrich Schütz, the most important German composer of the 17th century. It is scored for four voices, to which a larger vocal ensemble can be added if the performers wish so. Two instruments are required: a trumpet and a cornett; here these parts are both played by cornett. Three sackbut parts can be added ad libitum; here four sackbuts participate; the fourth may either play colla parte with one of the voices or support the basso continuo. Johann Georg Ahle worked in Mühlhausen. His Freudenlied was written to celebrate the birth of Prince Joseph Habsburg (later Emperor Joseph I) in 1678. The text mentions trumpets, cornetts and sackbuts - reason enough to include the latter two here.

The remaining pieces are largely of a mourning character. Again, Schütz is represented, with one of his most remarkable and famous pieces: Fili mi, Absalon, David's lamento on the death of his son Absalom, who attempted a coup d'état against his father. It is scored for bass, four sackbuts and basso continuo. The piece is dominated by descending lines and chromaticism; it is a model of text expression, of which Schütz was an absolute master and which earned him the nickname of musicus poeticus. Obviously, music for Passiontide cannot be omitted in this part of the programme. We get here an extract from the Charfreytags Andacht (Good Friday Devotion) by Martin Mayer, who worked as organist in Breslau (today Wroclaw), where he also may have been born. The liner-notes don't tell wether the entire work has been preserved, and Mayer has no entry in New Grove. It would be interested to hear the whole piece, as this extract, Da der Tag ein Ende nahm is most intriguing for its scoring for two voices and eight sackbuts.

"Es ist ein grosser Gewinn, wer Gottselig ist und lässet ihm genügen" (There is great gain in godliness with contentment) - that is the opening line of the funeral music for the obsequies of Johann Helm, chancellor of Schleswig-Holstein (1678), by Dietrich Becker. The text is taken from Paul's first letter to Timothy, and the poem that follows it reflects on this text. It is set for various combinations of instruments, and at the end the piece returns to the opening. The scoring comprises strings (violin, viola, two bass viols) and winds (cornett, three sackbuts), supported by basso continuo, with four vocal parts.

The latest piece from the baroque period is Herr Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht by Johann Sebastian Bach. It has been ranked among the cantatas in Schmieder's catalogue, because it was thought to be the only surviving section of a cantata. However, Bach himself called it a motet, and its texture is not fundamentally different from the motet as it was written by him and by other members of his family. It may well have been written for a funeral, as the text refers to the temporariness of human existence on earth. It has been preserved in two versions. The early version may date from 1736/37 and requires a cornett and three sackbuts. Furthermore are two instruments required which Bach called lituo, which is thought to refer to a high-pitched horn. Grantley McDonald, in his liner-notes, states: "A research project at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis in 2008/09 proposed that the instruments were straight wooden natural trumpets, of a type still used in East-Central Europe for funeral music. Another solution is presented here: the corno da tirarsi, which Bach specified in three of his surviving cantatas. Although no examples of this instrument have survived, it has been hypothetically reconstructed as a brass horn with a coiled section (suggesting the curved lituus) and a slide which permits a fully chromatic range."

Bach's motet is not the latest work on the programme, though. The disc opens with two Equales by Ludwig van Beethoven; later on a third is performed. In the autumn of 1812, Beethoven visited Linz, and the choirmaster of the cathedral, Franz Xaver Glöggl, asked him to write some pieces for All Souls' Day. Beethoven wrote four pieces, among them the three Equales performed here, scored for four trombones. The first and third are included here with a text by Ignaz Ritter von Seyfried, with which they were performed at Beethoven's funeral. The second is sung a capella, with a text by Franz Grillparzer; with this text it was performed at the consecration of Beethoven's tomb at Währing in 1828.

The programme also includes some pieces which seem to have little connection with the subject of this project. They may fit to the title of this disc, but as the programme focuses on the role of loud wind instruments, their inclusion is debatable. O meine Seele, warum bist du betrübet by Heinrich Schütz is a funeral piece, dating from 1652, and that may be the reason that it is included here, although it is scored for voices a capella. The scoring of Buxtehude's Klag-Lied on the death of his father includes two viole da gamba, but no sackbuts. Johann Hermann Schein's sacred concerto O Jesulein, mein Jesulein is a motet for two voices and basso continuo; here a sackbut participates in the basso continuo. Ich bin eine Blume zu Saron is a cantata by Johann Philipp Krieger, again for two sopranos, but now with an obligato part for the violin. It is odd that the composer's suggestion of the sackbut as an alternative to the violin has been ignored.

These latter remarks don't in any way compromise the importance of this disc. The concept is interesting and is generally worked out rather well. The programme includes several little-known or completely unknown pieces, which is always a bonus. The performances are mostly excellent, both vocally and instrumentally. There are a few issues. Schütz's Fili mi, Absalon is largely disappointing. Geoffrey Buffière's voice has too little weight and as a result the balance between the voice and the sackbuts is less than ideal. Moreover, his clearly audible vibrato is regrettable. That also goes for the fact that Buxtehude's Klag-Lied is not performed complete; we get only four of the seven stanzas. Schütz's motet O meine Seele, warum bist du betrübet consists of five stanzas, of which only the first three are performed; in the booklet the second is omitted.

It is probably inevitable that a production like this one does not come without issues. It is necessary to mention them, but it should not prevent anyone from investigating this disc. I have enjoyed it, and I recommend it to anyone interested in this kind of repertoire. This disc was made at the occasion of the tenth anniversary of InAlto. I wish Lambert Colson and his colleagues many happy years of music making to come.

Johan van Veen (© 2024)

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