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Johann STADEN (1581 - 1634): "Motetten"

Hana Blaziková, soprano; Alex Potter, alto; Satoshi Mizukoshi, tenor; Dominik Wörner, bass
Windsbacher Knabenchor; Concerto Palatino; Capella de la Torre
Dir: Martin Lehmann

rec: May 22 - 25, 2014, Nuremberg, St. Lorenz
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88875042942 (© 2015) (71'49")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Christ fuhr gen Himmel a 8; Christe, der du bist Tag und Licht, Hymnus a 12; Dank sagen wir alle a 8; Friedensfürst, Herr Jesu Christ a 9; Gott ist unsre Zuversicht und Stärk a 10; Ich will des Herren Zorn tragen a 8; Jesaja, dem Propheten, das geschah a 11; Jesus Christus, unser Heiland, der den Tod überwand a 8; Komm, heiliger Geist a 12; Magnificat - Meine Seel erhebt den Herren a 8; Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, Hymnus a 14; O Vater aller Frommen a 8; Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist a 12; Wohl dem, der den Herren fürchtet a 12; Wohl dem, der sich des Dürftigen annimmt a 8

Sources: [choir soloists] Samuel Krauß, Raul Segura-Olesch, Philipp Weiser, Emil Zikarsky, treble; Jaro Kirchgeßner, alto; Matthis Jensen, Christopher Lanitz, Justus Merkel, Joschka Nehls, Wlly Rentsch, Jan Scholkowski, tenor; Johannes Haschke, Yannick Henrici, Maximilian Hischer, Marius Kaufmann, bass

This is the second time within a couple of years that a disc with music by Johann Staden lands on my desk. I knew the name of the composer and it is perfectly possible that I may have heard one or two compositions from his pen some time but I am not aware of any disc with a substantial number of his compositions, let alone a recording entirely devoted to his oeuvre. In 2013 the conservatory of Nuremberg released a disc with sacred works and some instrumental pieces, performed by music students from that institution and from the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis, plus a couple of professional performers. I assessed it as a respectable recording but not of the highest quality. That is different here.

Like that disc the present one was recorded in Nuremberg. That is the south German town where Staden was born and where he was active for most of his life. He was educated as an organist and at the age of 18 he had already a reputation as such, probably also due to activities as assistent organist in several churches. In 1604 he married and the record of his marriage describes him as organist in Bayreuth. Until 1610 he worked at various places and then returned to Nuremberg where in 1611 a daughter was baptised. In 1612 he went to Dresden to succeed the deceased Hans-Leo Hassler as court organist. But only two years later he once again returned to Nuremberg to stay there until his death. In 1616 he became organist of the Spitalkirche, later that year he moved to St Lorenz and in 1618 he was appointed organist of St Sebaldus, the main post in town. As a result he was the director of all musical activities in Nuremberg. In 1634 he died of the plague.

Johann Staden's oeuvre includes a substantial number of sacred and secular vocal works, some collections with instrumental music and some keyboard works. About half of his output has survived incomplete. The present disc comprises the fifteen sacred concertos which are included in the first part of his main collection of sacred music, printed under the title of Kirchen-Music. These are sacred hymns and Psalms for the main feasts of the ecclesiastical year which could also be used on other occasions, as the title page indicates. The number of parts varies from two to fourteen, and in these pieces Staden mixes the stile antico with the modern concertante style which had emerged in Italy. All the pieces make use of the cori spezzati technique developed in Venice by Willaert and then further developed by the Gabrielis. He specifically mentioned Giovanni Gabrieli as one of his sources of inspiration.

Traces of the seconda prattica are the use of the basso continuo and a careful illustration of the text. The programme includes several pieces where the latter is clearly noticeable. In Wohl dem, der den Herren fürchtet the tempo speeds up on the words "that walketh his ways". And the phrase "thy children like olive plants round about thy table" is illustrated by solo voices entering in turn. In Magnificat - Meine Seel erhebt den Herren the words "alle Kindeskind" (all generations) are set for the tutti. On "zertreuet" (scattereth) the two choirs alternate. One of the most impressive examples of text expression is Gott ist unsre Zuversicht which closes the programme. Phrases like "the earth be removed" and "carried into the midst of the sea" are set to descending figures, followed by a pause. Staden doesn't miss the opportunity to vividly depict words like "roar and be troubled". His setting of a phrase like "[he] maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder, he burneth the chariot in the fire" is very eloquent.

In the first half of the 17th century the technique of the echo was very popular and used in Italian operas but also in organ music of the north German organ school, the latter partly inspired by Sweelinck. Here it is used in Wenn mein Stündlein vorhanden ist. This is one of various pieces based on chorales as they were written under the influence of Martin Luther. Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland is one of the best-known of these; another one is Komm, heiliger Geist. Such pieces have the texture of chorale variations; some of the stanzas are set for two voices which sing the hymn melody with ornamentation. The collection also includes some liturgical pieces: the Magnificat is one of them - a fixed part of the Vespers - but also Jesaja, dem Propheten, das geschah which took the position of the Sanctus. O Vater aller Frommen is a free adaptation of the Pater noster.

Pieces like these are not intended for solo voices, choir and instruments but rather for an ensemble of voices and instruments which take care of the solo episodes as well as the tutti. That is the case here. Although four professional singers are taking part they are fully integrated into the ensemble. On the other hand, a number of solo episodes are sung by members of the Windsbacher Knabenchor. This choir is probably not as well known in early music circles as, for instance, the Tölzer Knabenchor or the Knabenchor Hannover, but that is mainly because until fairly recently the choir mostly performed with ensembles on modern instruments. This policy seems to have changed, and rightly so, because it is a fine choir and its members are very good in their solos.

The booklet includes texts and translations but is a little short on information about the composer and his music. It is not mentioned in which pieces the soloists participate. Even the members of the instrumental ensembles - both first-rate - are not specified. A disc of such importance - considering the quality of the music and the scarcity of recordings with Staden's music - deserves a better booklet.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

Relevant links:

Alex Potter
Dominik Wörner
Capella de la Torre
Concerto Palatino
Windsbacher Knabenchor

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