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CD reviews

"Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich"

Anna Maria Friman, soprano; Hille Perl, treble viol; Lee Santana, lute; Sirius Viols

rec: Jan 10 -12, 2011, Sengwarden, Ev. Kirche St. Georg
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88697988622 (© 2011) (61'52")
Liner-notes: E/D; no lyrics
Cover & tracklist

anon: Verleih uns Frieden; Francis CUTTING (1550-1595): Greensleeves; Johann ECCARD (1553-1611): Ich steh an deiner Krippen hier; Cornelius FREUNDT (?-1591): Wie schön singt uns der Engel Schar; Anthony HOLBORNE (c1545-1602): The new Yeeres Gift; Erasmus KINDERMANN (1616-1655): Intonatio Gib Frid zu unser Zeit; Jakob PRAETORIUS (1586-1651)/Georg FORSTER (1514-1568)/Johann ECCARD: Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her; Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621): Es ist ein Ros entsprungen; In dulci jubilo; Balthasar RESINARIUS (1480-1546)/Johann WALTER (1496-1570)/Johann ECCARD: Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland; Antonius SCANDELLUS (1517-1581)/Johann WALTER/Balthasar RESINARIUS: Gelobet seystu Jesu Christ; Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630): Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich [1]; Johann SCHELLE (1648-1701): Actus Musicus auf Weyh-Nachten (Sonata pastoralis; Sonata Vom Himmel hoch); Leonhart SCHRÖTER (1532-1601)/Michael ALTENBURG (1584-1640): Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr; Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672): Paratum cor meum (SWV 257) [2]; Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich - Gib unsern Fürsten und aller Obrigkeit (SWV 372-373) [3]

Sources: [1] Johann Hermann Schein, Cantional oder Gesangbuch Augspurgischer Confession, 1627; Heinrich Schütz, [2] Symphoniae Sacrae, I, 1629; [3] Geistliche Chor-Music, 1648

Juliane Laake, treble viol, tenor viol; Marthe Perl, treble viol, bass viol; Frauke Hess, treble viol, bass viol, violone; Sarah Perl, bass viol

In programmes of German music for Advent and Christmas one feature regularly turns up: the hymn as it was developed during the 16th and 17th century as the fruit of the liturgical reforms of Martin Luther. Hymns were often arranged by composers and included in cantatas and other sacred pieces. But the largest part of the repertoire which is mostly performed and recorded was written in the baroque era. In comparison the earliest arrangements, from the time these hymns were written, are largely ignored. That makes this disc special: here we hear settings by composers of the 16th century. The programme is extended by a couple of forays into the 17th century.

Some of the most famous hymns for Advent and Christmas are represented, like Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen and, of course, In dulci jubilo. Some others are not directly related to this period of the year, but fit into the programme, like Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr. And Verleih uns Frieden can be related to the chorus of the angels appearing unto the shepherds. But the artists have not resisted the temptation to include pieces which they apparently liked but not easily fit into the concept. That is the case with Paratum cor meum by Heinrich Schütz, a setting of Psalm 107, vs 2-4. Rather odd is the performance of the two English items in a priogramme with German music, even more so because of their character. Greensleeves is originally a secular song and was only provided with a sacred text in the 19th century. Holborne's The New Yeeres Gift is an instrumental piece without any sacred connotations.

What exactly has been the reasoning behind the choice of music is anybody's guess. In her liner-notes Hille Perl dwells upon the insecurities of modern society and many people's longing for "amicable warmth from the inside, to respond to the disunity of society". In the process she argues the specific Christian meaning of Advent and Christmas away. I would have preferred more specific - and correct - information about the composers and their music. And thanks to the good delivery of Anna Maria Friman one can understand most lyrics, but their absence in the booklet is a serious omission. It is also not exactly clear what the original scoring of the various pieces is. Moreover, hymns are presented as a sequence of settings by various composers, but the listener is left in the dark as to which setting was composed by which composer. The booklet contains a number of errors. Antonius Scandellus last name is spelled as Scandelius, in her notes Hille Perl calls Praetorius consistently Prätorius, and gives the wrong title of his treatise Syntagma musicum. And calling a piece like Gib Fried zu unser Zeit an 'anti-war piece' is anachronistic.

Fortunately the performances are much better. Anna Maria Friman who is also a member of the Trio Mediaeval, has a nice voice and, despite being Swedish, her pronunciation of the German texts is quite good. Her voice blends well with the viols of the ensemble Sirius. As I already wrote the original scorings are not given. Some pieces are well known, though: Schütz Paratum cor meum was written for solo voice, two violins and bc. Here the violin parts are played on treble viols. Verleih uns Frieden and Gib unsern Fürsten are from the collection Geistliche Chor-Music and scored for five voices and bc. Although it is quite possible to play some parts on instruments as in this recording I think a vocal performances is preferable. That is also the case with In dulci jubilo by Michael Praetorius. Ms Friman sings all pieces quite well, though.

I have already indicated that a large part of the repertoire is hardly known. Even some composers seldom turn up in the programmes of concerts and recordings, like Leonhart Schröter, Balthasar Resinarius, Anthonius Scandellus and Cornelius Freundt. They are all from a part of music history which is still hardly explored. It is time to change that. The pieces on this disc suggest there is much to discover which deserves to be heard.

Despite my reservations I strongly recommend this disc as it offers a good alternative to what is on the market.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

Anna Maria Friman
Hille Perl
Lee Santana

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