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Heinrich SCHÜTZ & Michael PRAETORIUS: "Reformationsmesse - Mass for the Reformation Jubilee, Dresden, 1617"

La Capella Ducale; Musica Fiata
Dir: Roland Wilson

rec: Oct 14 - 16, 2013, Fürth, Michaeliskirche
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88843021592 (© 2014) (81'21")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list
Scores Praetorius; Scores Schütz

Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621): Agnus Dei: Christe, du Lamm Gottes a 8 [1] Der Silber durchs Feuer siebenmal [2]; Missa gantz Teudsch: Glory sey Gott etc. cum Sinfoniis [2]; Wir gleuben all an einen Gott [2]; Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672): Danket dem Herrn, denn er ist freundlich (SWV 45) [3]; Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (SWV deest) (ed. R.Wilson); Nicht uns, Herr, sondern deinem Namen gib Ehre (SWV 43) [3]; Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren (SWV 41) [3]; Sanctus: Esaia, dem Propheten, das geschah (SWV 496) (ed. R. Wilson); Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied a 8 (SWV 35) [3]; Verleih uns Frieden - Gib unserm Fürsten (SWV 372/373) [4]

Michael Praetorius, [1] Musae Sioniae ... geistliche Concert Gesänge ... dritter Theil, 1607; [2] Polyhymnia caduceatrix et panegyrica, 1619; Heinrich Schütz, [3] Psalmen Davids sampt etlichen Moteten und Concerten, 1619; [4] Musicalia ad chorum sacrum, das ist: Geistliche Chor-Music ... erster Theil, 1648

[LCD] Constanze Backes, Karolina Brachmann, Monika Mauch, soprano; Rolf Ehlers, Alexander Schneider, alto; Tobias Hunger, Victor Lesage, Hermann Oswald, tenor; Wolf Matthias Friedrich, Ulrich Maier, bass
[MF] Roland Wilson, recorder, cornett; Anne Schall, recorder, cornett, mute cornett; François Petit-Laurent, cornett, trumpet; Peter Protschka, Almut Rux, Hannes Rux, Gerd Schulz, trumpet; Cas Gevers, trumpet, sackbut; Detlef Reimers, Ercole Nisini, sackbut; Adrian Rovatkay, dulcian, great bass shawm; Anette Sichelschmidt, Christine Moran, violin; Christiane Volke, viola; Hartwig Groth, viola da gamba, violone; Michael Freimuth, lute, chitarrone; Axel Wolf, chitarrone; Christoph Anselm Noll, Martin Lubenow, spinet, regal, organ; Andreas Nowak, timpani

The Reformation is one of the key moments in European history. It had a strong impact, not only in the realm of religion, but also in politics, social affairs and the arts. The publication of his Ninety-Five Theses by Martin Luther in 1517 is generally considered the start of the Reformation, and it is for that reason that its fifth centennial will be celebrated in 2017. The first signs of this event are already noticeable in concerts and recordings. In the course of this year several discs with music connected to the Lutheran Reformation will be reviewed here.

The disc which is the subject of the present review brings us to the first centennial in 1617. It was celebrated across Protestant Germany, but especially in Saxonia. Here Prince-Elector Johann Georg considered himself as a protector of the Reformation. At the Dresden court three days of festivities took place from 31 October to 2 November. Each day two services were held, Mass and Vespers, in the chapel of the castle. The chief court preacher Hoë von Hoënegg not only published his sermons the following year, but he also gave some useful information about the music performed at this occasion. Roland Wilson took this as the starting point for his recording of music which could have been performed during Mass and Vespers. Obviously this cannot be a reconstruction in the strict sense of the word, as parts of the services - readings, congregational singing etc - are omitted. Moreover, the information of Von Hoënegg suggests at least some of the pieces which may have been performed, but he doesn't mention any of them by name. In the end this 'reconstruction' is a matter of guesswork. But it is at least 'historically informed guesswork'. The only thing one may expect from recording projects like this is that the outcome is at least plausible: the selected music could have been performed. That seems to be the case here.

Two composers are represented who were among the most prominent in Germany at the time. One may have expected that music by Schütz would have dominated at the celebrations, but at this time he was not the court Kapellmeister as yet. That position was held by Rogier Michael, but as he was quite old at the time and often ill, it seems unlikely that he contributed any music, according to Roland Wilson in his liner-notes. However, one cannot exclude that - maybe as a tribute to this Flemish-born master who had acted as Kapellmeister since 1587 - some of his motets may have been performed. Wilson's assumption that music by Michael Praetorius was part of the celebrations is very plausible as he acted as assistant to the ailing Kapellmeister since 1613.

The programme opens with a sacred concerto on the text of Luther's best-known hymn, Ein feste Burg. Von Hoënegg mentions a setting for five choirs; from Schütz's pen an incomplete setting for eight voices has survived. Wilson has reconstructed this and expanded it to a piece for five choirs. The second and third stanzas are sung on the music of a four-part setting from the Becker Psalter. It needs to be added that, according to the work-list in New Grove, the incomplete setting's authenticity is not established [1]. Four pieces are taken from the collection Psalmen Davids. This is the most convincing choice as this collection was published in 1619. It reflects Schütz's experiences in Venice where he studied with Giovanni Gabrieli and became thoroughly acquainted with the Venetian cori spezzati practice. These four psalm settings show how much he learnt in Venice. The colours of the instruments are effectively explored, and at the same time Schütz - who also composed a collection of madrigals showing what he had learnt from his teacher - eloquently translates text into music. That comes to the fore, for instance, in the last item, an exuberant and almost ecstatic setting of Psalm 136, Danket dem Herrn. It describes God's omnipotence and the way he liberated his people from its slavery in Egypt.

Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren (SWV 41) is one of the relatively few compositions by Schütz in which he makes use of a chorale melody; its composer is unknown. Michael Praetorius frequently used chorale melodies and often arranged them, either in simple four-part settings or in large-scale sacred concertos. The latter is the case in Wir gleuben all an einen Gott, a chorale which was sung as the Credo in Mass. The melody is heavily ornamented, sometimes in a quite virtuosic way. This piece is for three choirs. Praetorius provided much material for liturgical purposes, and it is telling that this piece has been published in an ornamented version (diminutum) and a simple version (simplex). The Kyrie and Gloria are taken from another liturgical work, the Missa gantz teudsch. Here we hear three choirs again, but Praetorius indicates that two additional capellae could be used. That is omitted here, as Wilson opted for a performance with one voice per part [2]. Considering that the chapel of the castle where the celebrations took place was not that large - Wilson suggests that not more than about 200 people may have been present - performances with such a small line-up seem very plausible.

Ein feste Burg is not the only piece reconstructed by Wilson and recorded here for the first time. The same goes for Esaia, dem Propheten, das geschah, which is sung here as the Sanctus of the Mass, and which has survived incomplete. Wilson believes that it belongs stylistically to the same period as the Psalmen Davids it has been included here. Questionable seems the inclusion of the motets Verleih uns Frieden and Gib unserm Fürsten from the Geistliche Chormusik of 1648. Wilson argues that this collection contains pieces written much earlier. That is quite possible, but probably hard to prove.

All in all this is a most interesting and musically exciting recording. The oeuvre of Heinrich Schütz is pretty well-known, although many music-lovers outside the German-speaking world may not be familiar with a large part of his output. Still, even those who know his oeuvre pretty well can find little-known masterpieces, such as in this recording. One may be sceptical about modern reconstructions of incomplete pieces, but Wilson has done a fine job here by making several of them available. The large oeuvre of Michael Praetorius is largely unknown and deserves to be thoroughly explored. This disc proves once again that he was a great composer and his music - whether in large-scale scorings or in simple four-part harmonisations - hardly ever fails to impress.

That is also due to the performances by these two ensembles under Wilson's direction who has developed into a specialist in 17th-century German music. Over the years I have heard many of his recordings and some live performances, and almost every time they were spot-on. He gathers together first-class singers and players who are acquainted with the repertoire and the stylistic requirements for a good and convincing performance. In this repertoire much attention needs to be paid to the text. That is one of the virtues of this recording: the delivery is outstanding, thanks to a declamatory treatment of the text but also a perfect blending of voices and instruments which leads to a maximum transparency. The players are as much aware of the text as the singers. They also bring brilliant and colourful performances of the instrumental parts.

Let the celebrations begin!

Mr Roland Wilson has sent me an e-mail with comments on two issues raised in the review. The numbers refer to the respective passages.
[1] (Re the authenticity of Ein feste Burg): Grove is not up to date in this matter. Whilst preparing the programme I contacted Werner Breig, who is responsible for the Schütz Werkverzeichnis, to ask him about the latest view on the authenticity. He said, he has no doubts any more about it but simply has not yet got round to updating the Verzeichnis and allocating an SWV number.
[2] (Re the scoring of the Kyrie and Gloria from the Missa gantz teudsch): I don't have the CD booklet in front of me, so perhaps it is not correct or confusing, but the capellae or any other parts were not omitted. The capella instrumentis is performed by cornetto und 3 trombones and the capella vocibus by 4 singers. In the 1. chorus Praetorius specifically asks for the altus instrumentalis part to be performed on a cornetto muto and the bassus instrumentalis part to be played by a violone, which is exactly how we did it. (...) Praetorius does say that one can at certain points double these two instruments with singers, if one has them available. We did not however do this.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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