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CD reviews

"Tunder Appreciated"

Musica Poetica
Dir: Oliver John Ruthven

rec: April 2018, London, St Mary's Church, Walthamstow
Veterum Musica - VM020 (44'18")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list
Scores Tunder

Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Membra Jesu nostri (BuxWV 75) (Ad latus); Girolamo FRESCOBALDI (1583-1643): O mors illadeij [2]; Partite sopra Passacaglij [1]; Franz TUNDER (1614-1667): An Wasserflüssen Babylonafghij; Da mihi Domineefghij; Ein feste Burgabdefghij; Salve mi Jesucfghij

Sources: Girolamo Frescobaldi, [1] Il secondo libro di toccate, canzone, versi d'hinni, Magnificat, gagliarde, correnti et altre partite d'intavolatura di cembalo et organo, 1627; [2] Liber secundus diversarum modulationum, 1627

Lucy Knighta, Gwendolen Martinb; Collin Shay, altoc; Peter Davoren, tenord; Christopher Webb, basse
Claudia Norz, Alice Earll, violinf; Kate Conway, Sam Stadlen, viola da gambag; Jan Zahourek, viola da gamba, violoneh; Toby Carr, theorboi; Oliver John Ruthven, organj

Franz Tunder was one of the main representatives of the so-called North German Organ School, of which the better-known Dieterich Buxtehude was one of the last representatives. Buxtehude was Tunder's son in law; when Tunder, organist at the Marienkirche in Lübeck, died, in 1667, Buxtehude succeeded him and married his second daughter the next year.

Not much is known about Tunder's formative years; it is documented that in 1632 he studied in Copenhagen, probably with the court Kapellmeister Melchior Borchgrevinck, who was a pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli. At the end of that same year Tunder was appointed organist at the court of Duke Friedrich III of Holstein-Gottorf. According to Johann Mattheson, Tunder studied with Girolamo Frescobaldi. There is no firm evidence of that, but the Italian influence in Tunder's oeuvre is unmistakable. Even if he had not been in Italy himself, there were plenty opportunities to become acquainted with what was written there. Tunder has become best known for his organ music, but also for the fact that he initiated the so-called Abendmusiken. These public concerts, probably meant to entertain businessmen awaiting the opening of the stock exchange at noon on Thursdays, started as organ recitals. In the course of time, vocal and instrumental music was added. It was Buxtehude who started to perform large-scale vocal works.

Tunder's oeuvre is relatively small: fourteen complete organ works and one fragment, seventeen vocal pieces and a sinfonia from a lost vocal work. The present disc offers four of the vocal works. All of them have been recorded before, but it seems that Tunder's oeuvre is little known outside the circle of specialists and those music lovers who are particularly interested in German music of the 17th century.

The opening item, An Wasserflüssen Babylon, is certainly one of Tunder's best-known vocal works. It is an arrangement of a versified paraphrase of Psalm 137; the text and melody are attributed to Wolfgang Dachstein and were published in 1525 in Strasbourg. Tunder's arrangement is scored for soprano and an ensemble of strings with basso continuo. In this recording it seems to be treated like a kind of consort song, as the soprano is part of the ensemble. I am not sure that this is what Tunder intended. I would have preferred a more marked performance of the solo part.

Salve mi Jesu is also an arrangement: the text is an adaptation of the Marian antiphon Salve Regina. Obviously the latter's text was unacceptable for Lutherans, but much of the original text has been preserved, including words such as "clamamus, suspiramus, gementes" and "flentes". In the baroque era these words were set to sighing figures (Seufzer) and that is not any different here. As this is an arrangement of a Salve Regina by the Italian composer Giovanni Rovetta, Tunder did not need to change that much. The scoring is for solo voice (alto) and five-part strings with basso continuo.

Seufzer were part of the devices a composer of the baroque period had at his disposal, in order to set a text in such a way that its emotions (Affekte) were communicated. In Da mihi Domine we find another technique. The second part opens with the phrase "Ne derelinquas me" - Do not forsake me. The urgency of this prayer is emphasized through repetition, each time at a higher pitch. Again, this piece is connected to the past - the church before the Reformation. The texts are responds for Matins, and are taken from the Book of Wisdom and Ecclesiasticus respectively. The scoring is again for solo voice (bass this time), five strings and basso continuo.

The disc ends with a large-scale piece for four voices, six strings and basso continuo, an arrangement of Luther's most famous hymn, Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. Whereas the opening verse is very much in the style of An Wasserflüssen Babylon, with a largely unaltered chorale melody, the three other verses receive a more free treatment. Notable is the use of the stile concitato in the second verse, on the phrase: "Es streit' für uns der rechte Mann, den Gott hat selbst erkoren" - It is the right man, that God himself has chosen, who is fighting for us. It is regrettable that the booklet offers not a literal translation of Luther's hymn, but rather a free paraphrase. Because of that the connection between music and text is largely lost.

The programme is extended with pieces that put Tunder into his historical context. First, in order to shed light on the influence of the Italian style, and in particular Frescobaldi, two pieces by the latter are included. The Partite sopra Passacagli are pretty well known. It is an example of a compositional form that was highly popular in the 17th century: a repeated bass pattern (basso ostinato) as the foundation of a piece of increasing virtuosity. Frescobaldi's vocal works are far lesser known, and O mors illa is one of them. The text is taken from Rhythmica oratio, attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux. It is a duet for tenor and bass about Christ's Passion. It is a typical specimen of the Italian monodic style, which gives free rein to the affetti to unfold.

The choice of this work by Frescobaldi makes sense as we also get one of the cantatas from Buxtehude's cycle of Passion cantatas Membra Jesu nostri. The texts of these cantatas are also taken from Rhythmica oratio, which documents that these medieval mystical texts were still highly valued in Lutheran Germany. Ad latus (to the side) is the fourth cantata. The entire ensemble participates in the opening section, which is repeated at the end. In between are three stanzas for solo voice(s).

This is a very attractive disc, which includes music that may be new to some. Tunder is certainly not as well known as Buxtehude or Schütz, and deserves to be known better. This disc may contribute to that. It is the result of a series of concerts devoted to the complete oeuvre of Tunder. This is the first disc, and I hope more are going to follow. It is also the debut recording of the ensemble Musica Poetica, which makes an excellent impression here. Over the years I have heard quite a number of performances and recordings of German 17th-century music by British ensembles which largely missed the point. That is not the case here. The German pronunciation is very good, and the singers and players are very well aware of the strongly rhetorical nature of German music. The articulation and dynamic differentiation is generally just as it should be. In the Latin texts the singers use German pronunciation. In Frescobaldi's duet I missed a bit of dynamic shading. Now and then I also noted a slight vibrato in the upper voices. However, these issues hardly matter, regarding the general quality of these performances.

With this disc Musica Poetica has made a very fine debut to the CD market.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

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