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"Praetorius & Italy"

RIAS Kammerchor; Capella de la Torre
Dir: Florian Helgath

rec: Nov 8 - 12, 2020, Neuenhagen bei Berlin, Bürgerhaus Neuenhagen
deutsche harmonia mundi - 19439848032 (© 2021) (76'25")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Agostino AGAZZARI (c1580-1642): Et repleti sunt omnes a 2 tenori e b.c.a [4]; Adriano BANCHIERI (1568-1634): Sonata sopra l'aria Musicale del Gran Duca a 4 [9]; Antonio CIFRA (1584-1629): Magnificat a 8 à versi spezzati [11]; Giovanni GABRIELI (1554/57-1612): Sonata pian'e forte a 8 (C 185) [1]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Lauda Jerusalem a 5 (SV 203) [12]; Michael PRAETORIUS (1571/72-1621): Christ, der du bist der helle Tag a 3-8 [3,5,6]; Christe, der du bist Tag und Licht a 7, 8, 11, 12 & 16 [8]; Meine Seele erhebt den Herren a 6, 10 & 14 [10]; Siehe, wie fein und lieblich cum Sinfonia & Ritornello [8]; Ludovico DA VIADANA (1560-1627): Doleo super te a 2 bassi e b.c.b [2]; Laudate Dominum a 2 soprani, basso e b.c. [2]; Sinfonia La Bergamasca a 8 [7]

Sources: [1] Giovanni Gabrieli, Sacrae Symphoniae, 1597; [2] Ludovico da Viadana, Cento Concerti Ecclesiastici, 1602; [3] Michael Praetorius, Musae Sioniae IV, 1607; [4] Agostino Agazzari, Sacrae Cantiones, 1609; Michael Praetorius, [5] Musae Sioniae VIII, 1610; [6] Musae Sioniae IX, 1610; [7] Ludovico da Viadana, Sinfonie musicali, 1610; [8] Michael Praetorius, Polyhymnia Caduceatrix et Panegyrica, 1619; [9] Adriano Banchieri, Primo libro delle messe e motetti, op. 42, 1620; [10] Michael Praetorius, Puericinium ... darinnen 14 teutsche Kirchenlieder und andere Concert-Gesänge, 1621; [11] Antonio Cifra, Moctetto et Psalmi octonis vocibus, 1629; [12] Claudio Monteverdi, Messa a quattro voci et salmi, 1650

[CdlT] Friedrike Otto, cornett; Annette Hils, recorder, dulcian; Katharina Bäuml, Birgit Bahr, shawm; Falko Munkwitz, Gerd Schnackenberg, Tural Ismayilov, sackbut; Regina Hahnke, dulcian; Jürgen Groß, Christiane Gagelmann, violin; Marthe Perl, viola da gamba; Frauke Hess, viola da gamba, violone; Johannes Vogt, Ulrich Wedemeier, theorbo; Martina Fiedler, organ
[RK] Friederike Büttner, Susanne Langner, Anja Petersen, Christina Roterberg, Inés Villanueva, Dagmar Wietschorke, Viktoria Wilson, soprano; Coline Dutilleul, Andrea Effmert, Katharina Heiligtag, Waltraud Heinrich, Hildegard Rützel, Marie-Luise Wilke, contralto; Volker Arndt (soloa), Joachim Buhrmann, Jörg Genslein, Minsub Hong, Christian Mücke, Volker Nietzke, Kai Roterberg, Shimon Yoshida (soloa), tenor; Stefan Drexlmeier (solob), Jörg Gottschick, Matthias Lutze, Marcel Raschke, Andrew Redmond, Johannes Schendel, Jonathan E. de la Paz Zaens (solob), bass

This year (2021) the musical world is commemorating the death of Michael Praetorius, one of the main German composers at the brink of the renaissance and baroque periods. That is to say: it is to be hoped that he is going to be commemorated. There is some serious competition, for instance from Josquin Desprez, who died in 1521. There are others as well, such as Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck and Tomaso Albinoni, if we confine ourselves to pre-romantic music. And then there is the COVID-19-pandemic, which still has substantial effect on the musical world and may prevent large-scale events taking place. That is especially a problem in the case of Praetorius, in comparison, for instance, with Josquin and Sweelinck. The latter two wrote music that can be performed with a small group of singers, which makes it easier to realise concerts devoted to their oeuvre under the present circumstances. Given that a large part of Praetorius' output comprises music for large groups of singers and instrumentalists, public performances of his music are far more complicated.

It is not entirely sure when Praetorius was born. "Around 1572", Bernhard Schrammek states in his liner-notes (the English translation has wrongly "in 1572"). According to New Grove it was in 1571, and in that case we can also commemorate his birth. The place where he was born is known: Creuzburg an der Werra, near Eisenach, where his father, also called Michael, who had studied with Martin Luther, worked as a pastor. As he did belong to the strict Lutherans, he regularly lost his job and had to move. Two years after his son's birth he had to move again, this time to Torgau. Here Praetorius senior became a colleague of Johann Walter, one of the main composers of hymns, at the Lateinschule. His successor, Michael Voigt, was Michael junior's first musical teacher. He matriculated at the University of Frankfurt an der Oder in 1582, where he became acquainted with Bartolomäus Gesius, another composer of hymns. In 1595 he entered the service of Duke Heinrich Julius of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel as organist. In 1604 he was appointed Kapellmeister. When his employer died, his successor allowed him to work elsewhere for some time. He worked in Dresden, Magdeburg, Halle, Sondershausen and Kassel, and he visited Leipzig, Nuremberg and Bayreuth. It is probably due to overwork that his health deteriorated, which led to his death at the age of 49. His high reputation is reflected by the fortune he left, which was largely to be used to set up a foundation for the poor.

Praetorius's importance in music history can hardly be overstated. He was one of the first in Germany who embraced the Italian style. In the third part of his Syntagma Musicum, a kind of encyclopedia of instruments and compositional styles (a rich source of information with regard to performance practice), he shows a thorough knowledge of Italian music. In his own compositions he mixed the German contrapuntal tradition with the Venetian polychoral style, and in his latest collections he incorporated the stile nuovo, with its monodic vocal writing and instrumental virtuosity. By applying these elements in his settings of hymns he played a crucial role in the introduction of the Italian style in music for the church. He also showed that hymns were not something of the past, but part of an ongoing tradition, and could be adapted to the latest trends.

No fewer than 22 collections of music came from the press between 1605 and 1621. Nearly all of them are arrangements of Lutheran hymns. The scoring varies from simple harmonisations to polychoral concertos for voices and instruments. One of the editions, called Puericinium, includes pieces especially written for boys' voices. Obviously at that time sacred music was never intended to be sung by women. The specific reference to boys' voices indicates that this collection had an educational purpose and was to be used in schools.

The present disc focuses on Praetorius's interest in Italian music. It is notable that he himself never visited Italy. Given that in his Syntagma Musicum and in many of his compositions he shows a thorough knowledge of what was going on there, he must have studied Italian treatises and the music of the main Italian composers of his time through printed editions and copies in manuscript. In the introduction to his treatise, he also mentions that he has received information from "a number of Italians" and that his knowledge is partly based on "the oral accounts of reliable people acquainted with all things Italian". Rather than performing music by Praetorius, some specimens of his oeuvre are embedded in a programme, which also includes pieces by composers he mentions in his treatise. Some of these are very well-known in our time, such as Giovanni Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi, others are little more than marginal figures in modern performance practice (Antonio Cifra, Agostino Agazzari).

The four pieces by Praetorius shed light on different elements in his oeuvre. Meine Seele erhebt den Herren is a setting of the Magnificat; the German text is from Luther's translation of the New Testament. In this piece Praetorius demonstrates a way of illustrating the text which is entirely modern. The opening phrase is indicative: a rising figure is repeated each time at a higher pitch, reflecting the key word "erhebt" (literally: lift). This phrase is repeated a number of times across the setting, as a kind of refrain. The words "vom Stuhl" ([put down] from their seats) is set to a descending two-note figure. Very eloquent is the illustration of the phrase "lässt die Reichen leer" (leaves the rich empty): the first words are for the tutti, and then the word "empty" is set for a solo voice.

Siehe, wie fein und lieblich is a setting of Psalm 133. It is divided into three sections, each of which consists of one verse. However, each ends with Psalm 117: "O praise the Lord, all ye heathen". The second section has only the first phrase from this psalm. In these additions the scoring is extended to sixteen voices in four choirs. The two remaining pieces are examples of Praetorius's treatment of Lutheran hymns. Christ, der du bist der helle Tag is taken from three different volumes of Musae Sioniae in various scorings, going from a more strict setting to one with extensive ornamentation. Christe, der du bist Tag und Licht is an impressive example of the way Praetorius treats a hymn with the means of the time, carrying a piece from the past to the future.

The pieces by Italian composers selected for this programme are different in form and scoring. On the one hand we get a setting of the Magnificat for eight voices in two choirs by Antonio Cifra, who was a pupil of Giovanni Battista Nanino in Rome, which had a double-choir tradition of its own. From 1609 until his death he worked as maestro di cappella in Rome and Loreto. His treatment of the text is in accordance with the standard of the stile moderno. His illustration of the word "dispersit" is just an example. Monteverdi was one of the most prominent exponents of the concertato style, but his setting of Lauda Jerusalem, one of the Vesper Psalms, is rather moderate, and is largely dominated by counterpoint, with very few declamatory elements.

Ludovico da Viadana is an interesting figure, who has not received the attention he deserves. His Cento Concerti Ecclesiastici are among the first sacred works scored for solo voice(s) and basso continuo. The latter is mostly a basso seguente, but the solo parts are in the modern declamatory style. We get two examples here, which are performed in different ways. Laudate Dominum is for two sopranos and bass, and these parts are sung by the respective sections of the choir, which seems rather at odds with the very character of these concertos. The voices are supported by instruments, playing colla voce. This practice seems questionable. Doleo super te is for two basses; it is a setting of David's lament on the death of Jonathan. The second section strongly contrasts with the first, due to its text: "How the mighty have fallen! The weapons of war have perished!" The performance by two basses from the choir is much more convincing than the way the previous concerto by Viadana is treated.

Agostino Agazzari was born in Siena, where he worked for most of his life. The largest part of his oeuvre comprises sacred music, among them the Sacrae Cantiones of 1609 for two to four voices and basso continuo. Et repleti sunt omnes is a setting of Acts 2, vs4, which tells about the followers of Jesus, having received the Holy Spirit, and beginning "to speak about the greatness of God". The two parts are sung by tenors; their phrases are then repeated by instruments, which seems a (debatable) decision on the part of the performers. They also accompany the singers in the concluding "Alleluia".

The instrumental pieces may well be inserted in order to demonstrate the use of instruments in Praetorius's time. The latter extensively wrote about instruments, but he never composed instrumental music. Terpsichore is merely a collection of dance tunes by different composers, which Praetorius arranged for instrumental ensemble.

It remains to be seen what will come onto the market in order to commemorate Praetorius's death. This disc is at least a good start, especially as it puts Praetorius in his historical context, and this way emphasizes his historical importance. The programme and the way it has been arranged, makes for a compelling journey through the landscape of the time around 1600, which was a time of change, but also a time in which past, present and future met. That comes to the fore in Praetorius's music. The RIAS Kammerchor is one of the world's best and most versatile vocal ensembles. Its members are fully capable of singing solo parts, and here they show a perfect command of the declamatory way of singing required in many pieces of this time. The Capella de la Torre delivers fine performances of the instrumental items, and is the perfect partner of the vocal forces. The balance between the two is just right. The only items, apart from some questionable decisions with regard to the line-up in Viadana, is that the text in the tutti sections is not always that well intelligible.

All in all, this disc is a worthy contribution to the Praetorius year 2021.

Johan van Veen (© 2021)

Relevant links:

RIAS Kammerchor
Capella de la Torre

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