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Johann Rosenmüller: "Requiem - Missa et motetti pro defunctis"

La Capella Ducale, Musica Fiata Köln, Ensemble Canticum (Christoph Erkens) (*)
Dir: Roland Wilson

rec: Nov 3 - 6, 2000, Mandelsloh, St Osdag
Sony - S2K 89470 (2 CDs; 48'42", 42'17")

Rosenmüller: Ad Dominum cum tribularer; Plainchant: Introitus: Requiem aeternam (*); Rosenmüller: Kyrie; Plainchant: Graduale: Requiem aeternam (*); Rosenmüller: Sinfonia VIII; Plainchant: Tractus: Absolve, Domine (*); Rosenmüller: Sequentia: Dies irae; Plainchant: Offertorium: Domine, Jesu Christe (*); Rosenmüller: Miserere mei, Deus; Plainchant: Sanctus - Benedictus (*); Rosenmüller: Agnus Dei; Plainchant: Communio: Lux aeterna (*); Rosenmüller: Domine, ne in furore tuo; Plainchant: In paradisum (*)

La Capella Ducale: Mona Spägele (soprano), Ralf Popken (alto), Wilfried Jochens (tenor), Harry van der Kamp (bass); Musica Fiata Köln: Anette Sichelschmidt, Christine Moran (violin), Christiane Volke, Elfriede Stahmer (viola), Roland Wilson (cornet), Peter Zentel, Detlef Reimers (trombone), Adrian Rovatkay (dulcian), Lee Santana, Axel Wolf (chitarrone), Christoph Anselm Noll (organ)

The music of Johann Rosenmüller (1619 - 1684) enjoys increasing popularity. No wonder, his works are extremely expressive, and thanks to the fact that he was musically educated in Germany and made a career in Italy, he combines text interpretation, which is characteristic for the German baroque, with Italian extroversion and sense of drama. This recording makes those aspects of his music abundantly clear.
Roland Wilson has brought together music which could be sung in a funeral liturgy. He stresses that this is no "liturgical reconstruction". Nevertheless, the plainchant helps to put the music by Rosenmüller in the right perspective.
Rosenmüller uses all the compositional means which composers of the baroque era had at their disposal to vividly illustrate the text, in particular rhetorics. In the first work, for instance, we hear the suspiratio and exclamatio right in the instrumental opening. In this work, as in others, we hear sudden shifts in rhythm, chromaticism, repetition of words which express trouble ("lassus" and "labor" in Dies irae), the contrast between high and low voices ("recordare pie Jesu" and "rex tremendae" respectively in Dies irae), as well as imitations of the trumpet by the strings. For the listener of today this could almost become too much. From that perspective the inclusion of plainchant also helps to relax a little after all this 'heavy stuff'.

The interpretation is perfect. The voices are all excellent, and also blend very well. I have nothing but praise for the instrumentalists as well. All artists involved know what they are dealing with. The phrasing and articulation are impeccable and the content of every piece is convincingly realised. In particular Harry van der Kamp is breathtaking in the sacred concerto for solo voice and instruments, Domine ne in furore tuo.
The 'schola cantorum', whose chorus master, Christoph Erkens, also acts as cantor, is on the same level throughout.
From a musical point of view I can't recommend this recording too highly.

There are things to criticise, though.
First of all: just 90 minutes of music on two CDs is a little sparing. I understand that if a recording is based on a concept, it isn't always easy to find some fillers. But it must be possible to make clear in the booklet that the fillers don't fit into the chosen concept, in this case music for a funeral service. I would have liked some additional instrumental works.
Secondly, I haven't seen that often a booklet with so many printing errors. That is especially annoying if they appear in the Latin texts. Sometimes whole words are omitted. Someone must have had a very bad day at the office.
Thirdly, it would have been nice if the scoring of every single composition would have been given, as well as a listing of who is singing or playing in which work. Fortunately it is pretty easy to hear, and the list of performers isn't that long, but still it is a serious omission.
Fourth: it is common practice these days to use modern versions of old liturgical chants. Here such a version is used as 'translation' of the Dies irae: "Day of wrath and doom impending, Heaven and earth in ashes ending! David's word with Sybil's blending!" Generally I am against this practice, but it is not that much of a problem in renaissance music, where there is not such a close relationship between text and music. But here, where Rosenmüller painstakingly translates the text into music, it is vital that the listener - in particular he who doesn't understand Latin - can follow closely how he does that.
The last point of criticism hasn't anything to do with music, but regards a moral issue. Roland Wilson wrote interesting programme notes in the booklet. After having told that Rosenmüller's promising career as Thomaskantor in Leipzig came to a sudden end in 1655 when he, together with some choirboys, was charged with homosexuality and put in prison, he adds: "Luckily he managed to escape". Well, that depends on how you look at it. From a musical point of view he is certainly right. But music isn't the most important thing in life. Considering that young boys were involved, talking about a case of homosexuality is rather a distortion of the facts. Pedophilia is more like it. And considering the position of authority of a Kantor it is highly unlikely that this was a case of "mutual consent". Therefore, from a moral point of view there is every reason to regret that he "managed to escape."

Johan van Veen (© 2002)

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