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Johann ROSENMÜLLER (c1617 - 1684): Sacred music and sonatas

[I] "Lo Zuane Tedesco"
I Fedeli

rec: March 3 - 5, 2010, Boswil, Alte Kirche
Pan Classics - PC 10222 (© 2010) (62'12")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Ego te laudoaefl; Estote fortes in bellodefghikl; In te Domine speravicijl; Laudate pueri Dominumabefghijl; O dives omnium bonarumbhl [1]; Salve Reginadhijl; Sonata IV a 3ijl [2]; Sonata XII a 5 in d minorfghjl [2]; Surgamus ad laudesfgl

Lorenza Donadini, sopranoa; Javier Robledano Cabrera, altob; Daniel Issa, tenorc; Lisandro Abadied, Ismael González Arrónize, bass; Josué Meléndez Peláez, cornett, cornettino, mute cornettf; Bork-Frithjof Smith, cornett, cornettinog; Christina Hess, Catherine Motuz, sackbuth; Katharina Heutjer, Ildikó Sajgó, violini; Jonathan Pesekj, Myriam Rehsek, cello; Javier Núñez, organl

[II] "Vox dilecti mi - Solo motets and sonatas"
Alex Potter, altom

rec: Jan 2010, Sengwarden, St. Georgs-Kirche
Ramée - RAM 1009 (© 2010) (66'05")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translation: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Christum ducem qui per crucemm [1]; In te Domine speravim; O anima mea suspira ardenterm; O dives omnium bonarumm [1]; O Salvator dilectissimem; Sonata a 2 Violini J.R.M. in D; Sonata III in d minor [2]; Sonata XII a 5 in d minor [2]; Vox dilecte mim

Veronika Skuplik, Bjarte Eike, violin; Klaus Bona, Cosimo Stawiarski, viola; Matthias Müller, violone; Robert Schlegl, Adam Bregman, Wim Becu, sackbut; Adrian Rovatkay, dulcian; Andreas Arend, chitarrone; Michael Fuerst, cembalino, organ

Sources: [1] Andere Kern-Sprüche, 1653; [2] Sonate a 2,3,4 è 5 Stromenti da arco & altri, 1682

Scores & parts

Johann Rosenmüller is without any doubt one of the best composers of the 17th century. His music is of a consistent high quality, but there are not that many recordings of his oeuvre. It is also mostly the music he composed during his stay in Italy which is recorded. The two recordings to be reviewed here also include pieces from a collection which was published in 1653, before his departure from Leipzig.

It is striking that all the compositions he created in Venice have been preserved in German sources. The musicologist Peter Wollny, who wrote the liner-notes to both recordings, points out that we know very little about Rosenmüller's life in Venice. He believes that there is no reason to assume that his life there was very easy. "In reality, it was without doubt relatively difficult to make a place for himself in the strictly regulated musicians' world. We still don't know how he managed to keep himself in Venice. Being a foreigner, the former celebrated director of church music at Leipzig University was forced to play at best a secondary role, for example, as temporary trombone-player in the ensemble at St Mark's cathedral, or as a music teacher at the Ospedale della Pietà." He believes that Rosenmüller must have had influential contacts who helped him to establish himself. He could also have benefitted from German traders who frequently visited Venice, and who had their own brotherhood in the city. Leipzig was, after all, a city of commerce and trade fairs. And then, he could have made himself a living through the sale of music. There was a large demand for Italian music in Germany, and Rosenmüller could have taken profit from that.

From this one may draw the conclusion that the music Rosenmüller composed in Italy wasn't meant for performance in Venice, but rather in Germany. And that could have consequences for the pronunciation of Latin. All the pieces on both discs are on a Latin text, and they are pronounced in the Italian way. That would be right if we would assume that these works were performed in Italy. But if they were actually written for use in Germany, then the German pronunciation would be the correct one.

These recordings demonstrate that there is no watershed between the music Rosenmüller composed in Germany and the pieces which he wrote in Italy. Even before he travelled to Venice he had a strong preference for the Italian style. The programmes on these discs show also the wide variety of scorings he made use of and the various ways he combined voices and instruments. What they all have in common is the strong connection between text and music. Every single item contains some examples of evocative text expression.

It is a matter of good luck that only two pieces appear on both discs. The Sonata XII from the collection of Sonate of 1682 is played by both ensembles, but in a different scoring. I Fedeli play this piece with two cornetts, two sackbuts and bc, whereas Chelycus has opted for a performance with strings. Both performances are good, but thanks to the stronger contrasts in tempo the latter makes a more lasting impression. The other duplication is the sacred concerto O dives omnium bonarum for a high voice - here an alto - and low instruments. Alex Potter's performance is superior to that by Javier Robledano Cabrera whose diction leaves something to be desired and whose dynamic range is too limited. At the end of various phrases he adds an ornament, but it is always the same, the trillo. Alex Potter's delivery is much better and therefore his communication of the piece's content is more penetrating.

I Fedeli's programme begins with a kind of battaglia, Estote fortes in bello, about the battle of the faithful against the devil, "the ancient snake". It is an impressive piece for two basses, 9 instruments and bc. The vocal parts are given evocative performances by Lisandro Abadie and Ismael González Arróniz. The latter has not the most beautiful voice I have heard; in particular in Laudate pueri Dominum I find his solo entries not very nice. But he blends surprisingly well with Lorenza Donadini and Javier Robledano Cabrera in the passages for three voices. His colleague Lisandro Abadie delivers a good interpretation of the Salve Regina. Daniel Issa sings In te Domine speravi well, but his interpretation is too bland. The playing of the violins is more spirited.

Alex Potter's programme only contains solo concertos, of course, and these often have a specific character. Some of them are hardly suitable for a liturgical performance as they reflect the spirit of German pietism. The most striking example is Vox dilecti mi which is inspired by the Song of Songs. It contains a line like this: "Thou art my beloved, most kindly Jesus, protector of my life". Close to this is O salvator dilectissime which begins with the line: "O most beloved Saviour, Jesus, sweetest love, salvation of the world, solace of languishing spirits, fill me with thy love, so that I may ever serve thee". In both pieces the voice is accompanied by strings, but their role is quite different. In the former piece they only play a ritornello which divides this concerto into various sections, whereas in the latter the voice and the strings are more integrated.

Also interesting is the texture of Christum ducem, about Jesus' death at the cross, which is entirely based on an ostinato bass, a chaconne of eight bars. It is played with the harpsichord, and that isn't the best choice. As a result the repeated bass pattern is too penetrating, also because the harpsichordist plays it too much staccato. O anima mea suspira ardenter is of doubtful authenticity. In some sources it is anonymous or attributed to the Dutch composer Benedictus a Sancto Josepho. Like in the programme of I Fedeli we hear a setting of Psalm 31, In te Domine speravi, one of seven settings known from Rosenmüller's pen. It is a virtuosic piece in which the opening phrase regularly returns as a kind of refrain.

From what I have written you may conclude that I like the disc by Alex Potter and Chelycus most. Potter has a wonderful voice, and - despite being British - shows a thorough understanding of this repertoire. After all, the texts may be Latin, this is German music in various ways, and that should be taken account of in particular in regard to the articulation. His delivery is immaculate, and the singing is very expressive throughout. The instrumental ensemble is of the same calibre. In short, this is one of the best Rosenmüller discs I know.

I Fedeli's disc is a sympathetic effort with mixed success. The singers are not of the same level and they fall short in regard to expression. The instrumentalists deliver the most convincing performances in this production. But it is still a relatively young ensemble and considering its potential there is every reason to expect it is going to improve. Nevertheless, we are offered some great music here, and we should be thankful for that. Both discs bear witness to the high quality of Rosenmüller's oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Alex Potter
I Fedeli

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