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"Come to my Garden, my Sister, my Beloved"

Voces Suaves
Dir: Jörg-Andreas Bötticher

rec: Oct 11 - 14, 2017, Guebwiller (F), Couvent des Dominicaines
deutsche harmonia mundi - 19075849752 (© 2018) (69'57")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover & track-list
Scores Schein

Giovanni BASSANO (c1551-1617): Tota pulchra es (Palestrina) [1]; Jörg-Andreas BÖTTICHER: Canzona per cembalo (improvisation); Toccata per organo (improvisation); Melchior FRANCK (c1580-1639): Fahet uns die Füchse [3]; Ich sucht des Nachts in meinem Bette [3]; Mein Freund komme in seinen Garten [3]; Setze mich wie ein Siegel auf dein Herz [3]; Siehe meine Freundin [3]; Steh auf, meine Freundin [3]; Wie schön und lieblich [3]; Wo ist denn dein Freund hingegangen [3]; Valentin HAUSSMANN (c1560-c1614): Passamezza [2]; Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630): Amor heut triumphieret [4]; Cupido blind, das Venuskind [5]; In Filli schönen Äugelein [5]; O Amarilli zart [5]; O brennende Äugelein [6]; O Filli, schön und subtil [4]; O seidene Härelein [6]; O Sternenäugelein [6]; Luigi ZENOBI (c1547-after 1602): Pulchra es amica mea (Palestrina) (ed. William Dongois)

Sources: [1] Giovanni Bassano, Motetti, madrigali et canzone francese di diversi eccellenti autori, 1591; [2] Valentin Haußmann, Neue Intrade mit sechs und fünf Stimmen fürnemlich auff Fiolen lieblich zugebrauchen: nach disen sind etliche englische Paduan und Galliarde anderer Composition zu finden, 1604; [3] Melchior Franck, Geistliche Gesäng und Melodeyen, 1608; Johann Hermann Schein, [4] Musica boscareccia, oder Wald-Liederlein auff italian-villanellische Invention, 1621; [5] Diletti pastorali, Hirten Lust, 1624; [6] Musica boscareccia, oder Wald-Liederlein auff italian-villanellische Invention, Dritter Theil, 1628

Lia Andres, Christina Boner, Mirjam Wernli, soprano; Lisa Lüthi, contralto; Jan Thomer, alto; Dan Dunkelblum, Raphaël Höhn, tenor; Davide Benetti, Tobias Wicky, bass
William Dongois, cornett; Plamena Nikitassova, violin; Matthias Müller, violone; Orí Harmelin, theorbo; Jörg-Andreas Bötticher, harpsichord, organ

In the course of history the texts from the Song of Songs - one of the books from the Old Testament - have exerted a strong attraction on composers. One reason for this is the expressive language with which the love of a young man and a young woman is described. Since ancient times these texts were given an allegorical interpretation, which explains why they have often been set by composers of sacred music, such as Lassus and Palestrina. Whereas the Catholic church identified the young woman with Mary and Christ with the young man, representing the church, Martin Luther returned to the allegorical interpretation of the early church. In the foreword to his translation of the Hohelied Salomos, he states that "this booklet describes in guarded terms the great love and blessings, which Christ, the heavenly bridegroom of his spiritual bride, renders the dear Christian churches here on earth, and every verse needs a special interpretation (...)". However, in his commentary on this book, he added a political interpretation. According to Jarrett A. Carty, he "argued that the Hebrew Bible's Song of Songs was 'an encomium of the political order', a praise and thanksgiving to God for the gift of temporal government."

In the Catholic church there was a kind of dichotomy with regard to the Song of Songs. It embraced the allegorical interpretation and considered the texts useful to strengthen the faith of the people, but various people who translated these texts into the vernacular came into conflict with the ecclesiastical authorities. The same kind of ambidexterity can be observed in Lutheran circles. "The famous Lutheran theologian Johann Gerhard, who penned the 'Foreword to the Christian Reader' of Melchior Franck's Geistliche Gesäng und Melodeyen from 1608, even declared the text to be unsuitable for children: "[Nevertheless] it should also be noted that God's spirit in this same book does not speak to the infants in Christ, who are still fed with milk."" (booklet) Franck himself, in the dedication of this collection, stated: "And I have set and had published in musical compositions this Song of Solomon that can be performed and used in honour of God and holy wedlock as well as lovingly for solace in the church".

The present disc includes a selection from the collection by Franck just mentioned. He was one of many German composers whose life and career were severely influenced by the Thirty Years War (1618 - 1648). He was born in Zittau as son of a painter, where he may have studied under Christoph Demantius. Little is known for sure about the early stages of his career, but around 1600 he was a member of the choir of St Anna Church in Augsburg. Here he may have been a pupil of Adam Gumpelzhaimer, Christian Erbach and Hans-Leo Hassler. The connection with Hassler seems without much doubt: both went to Nuremberg in 1601, and Franck's oeuvre shows the influence of Hassler. One the one hand there is the style of the Franco-Flemish school which Hassler had inherited from his teacher Leonhard Lechner, on the other hand Franck made use of the antiphonal style of the Gabrieli's, which Hassler had studied in Venice.

Franck was a very productive composer: between 1601 and 1636 forty collections of motets were printed. His oeuvre also shows a wide variety of genres: sacred music on Latin and German texts, occasional compositions, secular vocal works and instrumental music. In his vocal oeuvre Franck pays much attention to the text, and in this respect he points into the direction of Heinrich Schütz. But Franck's works are mostly rooted in the prima prattica: only in the latest stage of his career he wrote music with a basso continuo part.

The programme recorded by Voces Suaves includes eight pieces from the Geistliche Gesäng und Melodeyen. The entire collection consists of 24 motets for five, six and eight voices; 19 motets are on texts from the Song of Songs. In these settings Franck's attention to word painting is demonstrated time and again. Fahet uns die Füchse (Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines) opens in the style of a caccia. A repetition of figures in several voices is used to underline elements in the text, a speeding up of the tempo illustrates movement, like "ich will aufstehen" (I will rise up) (Ich sucht des Nachts) or "stehe auf" (rise up) in Stehe auf, meine Freundin. In the latter piece the musical figure on the word "Turteltaub" (turtledove) is effectively repeated by several voices antiphonally. Elsewhere the antiphonal principle is also used, but Franck never splits the ensemble in opposing 'choirs'.

This disc makes a connection between the Song of Songs and secular love poetry. At that time there was no watershed between the secular and the sacred, and in some compositions of Italian composers of the 16th and 17th century it is difficult to decide whether the text is sacred (for instance about the Virgin Mary) or secular (a female lover). The secular element is represented by pieces from two collections of secular vocal music by Johann Hermann Schein, who for most of his life was Thomaskantor in Leipzig. Like his friend Heinrich Schütz, Schein was strongly influenced by Italian music. The sub-title of Musica boscareccia points in that direction: "Little songs of the forest in Italian Villanella manner". The villanella was the more light-hearted sister of the madrigal. These pieces are for three voices and written in the stile antico. The title-page indicates that they can also be played on instruments. The Diletti pastorali are for five voices and basso continuo; they represent the very first madrigals on a German text with a basso continuo part. As in Franck's motets we find here also the use of the antiphonal technique, for instance in Cupido blind. In Filli schönen Äugelein includes an example of striking text illustration on the phrase "Als in zwei hellen Spiegelein die Flamm herwieder bricht" (As if the flames break out again in two bright little mirrors").

Also included in this programme are two of Palestrina's settings from his collection of motets on texts from the Song of Songs (Motettorum liber quartus ex Canticis canticorum, 1584), but then in diminutions by contemporaries: Giovanni Bassano and the little-known Luigi Zenobi. The latter's version is reconstructed by William Dongois. Franck's Wie schön und lieblich is also performed in the manner of diminutions, sung by a solo soprano. I find this not entirely convincing, as the diminutions sound a bit unnatural in a vocal performance. In some other pieces the cornett and the violin play partly colla voce and sometimes add ornamentation. The line-up in the vocal items on this disc is various, reflecting the different ways in which such music could be performed at the time.

The singing of the ensemble is outstanding; the ensemble is immaculate, as the voices blend perfectly. The intonation also leaves nothing to be desired. Whether this music should be performed with more than one singer per voice is a matter of debate. It is probably impossible to say how it was performed at the time. I personally would prefer a performance by solo voices. Unfortunately the track-list does not indicate the line-up of the individual pieces.

The three collections from which pieces are included here, are not that well known. This, and the quality of the music, is reason enough to welcome this disc. The performances are a further argument to include this disc in your collection.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

Voces Suaves

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