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Johann ROSENMÜLLER (1617 - 1684): Sacred Music & Sonatas

[I] "Beatus Vir - Motets & Sonates"
Raquel Andueza, sopranoa; Wolf Matthias Friedrich, bassb
Gli Incogniti
Dir: Amandine Beyer

rec: Sept 7 - 12, 2009, Paris, Église évangélique allemande
ZigZag Territoires - ZZT100801 (© 2009) (65'40")

[II] "Venetian Evensong - Latin Psalm Concertos"
Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble
Dir: Arno Paduch

rec: Sept 30 - Oct 2, 2009, Mandelsloh, Kirche St. Osdag
Christophorus - CHR 77333 (© 2010) (70'00")

[I] Coelestes Spiritusa; Jubilate Deob; Misericordias Dominia; Nisi Dominusa; Salve mi Jesuab; Sonata VII a 4 [1]; Sonata VIII a 4 [1]; Sonata X a 5 [1]
[II] Ecce nunc benedicite; Exurge gloria mea; In te Domine speravi; Jube Domine, versiculum; Nunc dimittis (Canticum Simeonis); Qui habitat in adjutorio; Salve Regina, antiphon; Sonata a 2 violini [1]; Sonata a 5 [1]

(Sources: [1] Sonate a 2,3,4 è 5, 1682)

[I] Amandine Beyer, Alba Roca, violin; Marta Paramo, Yoko Kawakubo, viola; Baldomero Barciela, viola da gamba; Francesco Romano, theorbo; Anna Fontana, harpsicord, organ
[II] Heike Heilmann, Julia von Landsberg, soprano; Alexander Schneider, Jürgen Banholzer, alto; Georg Poplutz, Nils Giebelhausen, tenor; Markus Flaig, christoph Kögel, bass; Arno Paduch, François Petitlaurent, cornett; Volker Mühlberg, Irina Kisselova, violin; Beatrix Hellhammer, Annegret Meder, viola; Gerd Schnakenberg, Clemens Erdmann, Christoph Hamborg, sackbut; Kristina Filthaut, dulcian; Jörg Meder, violone; Dennis Götte, chitarrone; Margit Schultheiß, organ

It is understandable that performing musicians don't listen to music, for instance on CD, very often. They probably don't have the time, and when they don't play or sing they may prefer something else to do. But if a musician is working on a project with instrumental music by a composer I find it hard to imagine that he completely ignores the compositions of that composer in other genres. In particular when that composer is not that well-known it helps to create a picture of his personality and style. I therefore was quite surprised to read the notes of Amandine Beyer in the booklet of her recording of vocal and instrumental pieces by Rosenmüller. "Johann Rosenmüller's talents as a composer were already known to us, because we have played a fair proportion of his instrumental music published in the seventeenth century (...). But the discovery of his motets truly surprised and delighted us (...)." The lack of acquaintance with Rosenmüller's vocal music is all the more surprising as quite a number of discs with specimen from this part of his oeuvre are on the market.

Johann Rosenmüller is in fact one of the better-known masters of the 17th century, because his music is of superior quality and an interesting mixture of German and Italian elements. He spent the largest part of his career in Italy, but always kept connections with his homeland. In Italy he worked in Venice, probably as a freelance musician and composer. Some German composers came to study with him, and he composed music for courts in Germany. Although in Italy he worked in a Roman-Catholic environment and set liturgical pieces to music - like the Salve Regina the Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble has recorded -, his treatment of the text is quite detailed, very much in the German tradition, and reflecting the influence of his teacher, Heinrich Schütz.

There is another notable German feature in his sacred music. He regularly scored his music for cornetts and sackbuts, instruments which were still very much in vogue in Germany but far less frequently used in Venice at the time Rosenmüller worked there. This may suggest that his music is old-fashioned. It clearly has some features which refer to the past, but there are also modern traits. Some of the pieces for solo voice and instruments which appear on both discs there are some passages which point into the direction of the recitative which was to become an important feature of vocal music of the 18th century. These passages are mostly short, and often turn fairly quickly into a more arioso-like passage. But their declamatory character distinguishes them from the rest of a piece.

Gli Incogniti are joined by Raquel Andueza and Wolf Matthias Friedrich in some pieces for solo voice and instruments most of which belong to the more modern kind of music Rosenmüller has written. In most of them the traditional instrumental ritornelli are absent. In a way they are replaced by the recitative-like passages which separate the much more virtuosic 'arias'. They are certainly written for skilled singers as Rosenmüller often uses extended coloraturas to single out particular words. And he sometimes also sets words to very long notes which require perfect breath control. Technically both singers have all it takes to sing these vocal concertos perfectly.

Stylistically I am not totally satisfied with the performances of Raquel Andueza. I don't find them really idiomatic, and I particularly miss the dynamic shading this repertoire needs. In comparison Wolf Matthias Friedrich is much more at home in this kind of music. The last item is Salve mi Jesu, in which the balance between the singers is less than ideal. The playing of the strings is alright, but again not very idiomatic. Dynamically it is too flat, and on this whole disc the rhythmic pulse in Rosenmüller's vocal and instrumental music is underexposed.

That is much better in the recording by the Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble. Here the rhythms are often infectious and the playing of the instruments more colourful and dynamically more distinguished. The singers are giving completely idiomatic performances, as every detail in the text is expressed. Arno Paduch has selected music which was written for Compline, the prayers at the end of the day, at the close of the Vespers. In this programme we find another more or less old-fashioned feature: the writing for double choir. The versiculum Jube Domne and the setting of Psalm 90 (91), Qui habitat in adjutorio are both for eight voices in two choirs. The Canticum Simeonis is a particularly brilliant and sparkling piece for four voices, five instruments and bc. It is not just the solo concertos which reflect the Italian concertante style: the pieces for four and for eight voices all contain a number of concertante passages for one or more voices.

Whereas the disc of Gli Incogniti is mostly alright, the one by the Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble is outstanding. Despite my difference in appreciation I recommend both, as Gli Incogniti offers several pieces which were probably not available on disc yet. And Johann Rosenmüller's music is of such excellent quality that almost every disc is welcome in order to enlarge our acquaintance with his oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Amandine Beyer
Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble

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