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"Wie mit vollen Chören - Music from Berlin's Historic Centre"

MarienVokalconsort; Marienensemble
Dir: Marie-Louise Schneider

rec: Oct 27, 2012 (live), Berlin, Nikolaikirche
Rondeau - ROP6071 (© 2013) (67'10")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: D
Cover & track-list

Leonhard CAMERER (CAMERARIUS) (?-1584): Decantabat populus Israel a 5; Johann CRÜGER (1598-1662): Boas sprach zu Ruth a 8; Du hast mir das Herze genommen a 8; Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen [2]; Jesu, meine Freude [2]; Magnificat IV a 5 in F [1]; Johann Georg EBELING (1637-1676): Der Herr erhöre dich in der Not; Du, meine Seele, singe [3]; Ein Tag in deinen Vorhöfen a 6; Magnus Peter HENNINGSEN (1655-1702): Bleybe bey uns, Herr Jesu Christ; Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied; Philipp WESTPHAL (?-1702): Der Kinder Gottes seliger Abschied aus diesem Leben

Sources: [1] Johann Crüger, Laudes Dei vespertinae, 1645; [2] div, D.M. Luthers und anderer vornehmen geistreichen und gelehrten Männer geistliche Lieder und Psalmen, 1653; [3] Johann Georg Ebeling, Pauli Gerhardi geistliche Andachten, 1666-67

[soli] Alexandra Lachmann, Nathalie Siebert, soprano; Joachim Stegmann, Ulrich Weller, alto; Stephan Gähler, Thomas Volle, tenor; Martin Backhaus, Amnon Seelig, bass
[MVC] Mariam Fahnert, Corinna Baier, Uta Obenaus, Christina Gerholz, Karen Lebek, Anne Halter, soprano; Kerstin Freydank, Hannah Puschke, Beatrice Schwarz, contralto; Wolfgang Baier, Jörg Harder, Johannes Hellmann, tenor; Bernhard Behr, Stephan Einbacher, Andreas Wallbaum, bass
[ME] Franziska Dallmann, Emiko Matsuda, transverse flute; Veronika Skuplik, Catherine Aglibut, violin; Dasa Valentova, Raquel Massadas, viola; James Bush, cello; Annette Rheinfurth, double bass; Andreas Arend, theorbo; Arno Schneider, organ

This is one of those discs which stand out among the many which are released every year. Even those who are well acquainted with German music of the 17th century will meet several composers whose names he probably has never heard before. Two of them have no entry in New Grove: Magnus Peter Henningsen and Philipp Westphal. All the composers represented here worked in Berlin between the end of the 16th and the first decade of the 18th century. They were connected to three churches in the centre of the twin town Berlin-Cölln: St. Nikolai, St. Marien and St. Petri. The latter was heavily damaged during World War II and was demolished between 1960 and 1964. St. Nikolai was also entirely destroyed, but was rebuilt as a museum which opened its doors in 1987. Only St. Marien was almost completely untouched during the war.

The earliest composer in the programme is Leonhard Camerer (or Camerarius). He was from Geisenfeld in Bavaria and is characterised in a document as "an expressive singer and instrumentalist, noteworthy as a theorist but especially as a practician and poet". He first worked in Graz and then in Linz, but went north when the Counter Reformation got a stronger hold of Austria. In the last years of his life, from 1582/83 until his death, he worked as cantor superior in St. Nikolai. He must have been held in high esteem as in collections his name appears alongside those of Lassus and Hassler. Only three motets from his pen have been preserved. The 5-part motet Decantabat populus Israel is written in the imitative polyphony of the Franco-Flemish school.

Johann Crüger is much better known, but mostly because of his chorale melodies. Fröhlich soll mein Herze springen - for Christmastide - is among his best-known chorales and is still often sung. Even more famous is Jesu, meine Freude, which has been incorporated frequently in sacred concertos and cantatas. The best-known piece on this text is the motet by Johann Sebastian Bach. However, his oeuvre includes some music for voices and basso continuo, for instance eight Magnificat settings, one in each of the church modes. The Magnificat IV a 5 in F opens this disc. Boas sprach zu Ruth and Du hast mir das Herze genommen are motets for eight voices and bc, both written for a wedding. The former is based on the biblical story of Boaz and Ruth (Ruth, ch 3), the latter on verses from the Song of Songs (ch 4, vs 9-11). From 1622 until his death he was Kantor and music director of Berlin, based in St. Nikolai.

When he died he was succeeded by Johann Georg Ebeling, today exclusively known for his chorale melodies and harmonizations. Du, meine Seele, singe is one of his best-known and is still included in German hymnbooks. He had enjoyed a thorough musical education in his birthplace Lüneburg. From 1660 to 1662 he was a member of the collegium musicum in Hamburg, at the time under the direction of Matthias Weckmann. The list of his works in New Grove is short, and it seems that his output wasn't large, although parts of it may be lost. Ein Tag in deinen Vorhöfen is a motet on verses from Psalm 84, scored for six voices and bc. According to New Grove it is a funeral motet; this is not mentioned in the booklet. It is a typical specimen of motets as written in 17th-century Germany: a mixture of stile antico and text illustration, the fashion of his time. Der Herr erhöre dich in der Not is a cantata on verses from Psalm 20 and ends with the phrase "Glück zu dem König Carolus, vivat Rex Carolus" - Hail to King Charles. This refers to Carl XI, King of Sweden, who visited Stettin (Szczecin) where Ebeling became principal teacher of music at the Gymnasium Carolinum after he left Berlin as a result of conflicts within the church. Therefore strictly speaking this cantata cannot be connected to Berlin. The term cantata is probably not the most appropriate: this piece has the traits of a motet, in which the tutti episodes are interrupted by solo episodes. It is more like a sacred concerto. The performance of the solo passages with more than one voice seems questionable.

Magnus Peter Henningsen worked from 1688 until his death in 1702 as Kantor of the Marienkirche. Three cantatas are included in the archive of the Berlin Singakademie which returned from Kiev to Berlin in 2002. Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied is a setting of verses from Psalms 98 and 46 in the form of a sacred concerto. Bleybe bey uns, Herr Jesu Christ has the form of a concerto aria cantata as we know it, for instance, from the oeuvre of Buxtehude. It begins with the words of the men of Emmaus (St Luke 24, vs 29) set in the form of a motet. Next are five stanzas for solo voice; the fifth suggests that this piece was written for the time around New Year's Day. After the five stanzas the opening section is repeated.

Like Henningsen Philipp Westphal is an unknown quantity; the year of his birth is not known. He was Kantor of St. Petri from 1667 until his death; he was also teacher at the Cöllnische Gymnasium. A colleague of his at the Gymnasium wrote the text of Der Kinder Gottes seliger Abschied aus diesem Leben, a piece for the funeral of "the noble, praiseworthy, and vituous lady Elisabeth Happen" in February 1669. It belongs to a genre which was quite common at the time: the deceased addresses the bereaved and consoles them by referring to the heavenly bliss which he or she enjoys and which should encourage those who are still alive.

This is a very important disc. It is a survey of the development in sacred music from the motet in stile antico, through the sacred concerto, to the early form of the cantata which was to become the standard in the 18th century. It sheds light on music life in 17th-century Berlin which is mostly overshadowed by developments elsewhere, such as Dresden and Hamburg. In addition we meet here several composers who are hardly known or whose acquaintance is rather one-sided. The performances are mostly very good. Singers and instrumentalists do a good job, but some decisions in regard to scoring are questionable as I indicated above. A production of this importance should not omit English translations of the lyrics. However, even those who don't understand German should consider this disc. It is too interesting to be missed.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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