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CD reviews

"Da pacem - Echo der Reformation"

RIAS Kammerchor; Capella de la Torre
Dir: Florian Helgath

rec: Nov 13 - 17, 2016, Berlin-Dahlem, Jesus-Christus-Kirche
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88965405412 (© 2017) (69'41")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

Michael ALTENBURG (1584-1640): Intrada XII über Ein feste Burg [8]; Giovanni GABRIELI (1557-1612): Dulcis Jesu patris imago a 20 (C 128); Magnificat a 14 (C 79) [6]; Jacobus DE KERLE (1532-1591): Missa Da pacem Domine (Agnus Dei) [2]; Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Da pacem Domine [3]; Luca MARENZIO (1554-1599): Jubilate Deo [5]; Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567-1643): Salve Regina (SV 285) [10]; MORITZ, Landgrave of Hesse (1572 - 1632): Tromba Hollandica; Girolamo PARABOSCO (1524-1557): Da pacem [1]; plainchant: Da pacem Domine; Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621): Meine Seele erhebt den Herren [7]; Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672): Gib unsern Fürsten (SWV 373) [11]; O süßer, o freundlicher (SWV 285) [9]; Verleih uns Frieden (SWV 372) [11]; Orazio VECCHI (1550-1605): Cibavit nos [4]; Johann WALTER (1496-1570): Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich

[1] div, Musica Nova, 1540; [2] Jacobus de Kerle, Quattro Missae, 1582; [3] Orlandus Lassus, Tertium opus musicum, 1588; [4] Orazio Vecchi, Motecta, 1590; [5] Luca Marenzio, Melodie sacrae, 1604; [6] Giovanni Gabrieli, Sacrae Symphoniae, II, 1615; [7] Michael Praetorius, Polyhymnia Caduceatrix & Panegyrica, 1619; [8] Michael Altenburg, Erster Theil Newer Lieblicher vnd Zierlicher Intraden, 1620; [9] Heinrich Schütz, Erster Theil kleiner geistlichen Concerten, 1636; [10] Claudio Monteverdi, Selva morale e spirituale, 1640/41; [11] Heinrich Schütz, Geistliche Chor-Music, 1648

[RKK, soli] Katharina Hohlfeld, Anette Lösch, Anja Petersen, Stephanie Petitlaurent, soprano; Waltraud Heinrich, Susanne Langner, contralto; Volker Arndt, Jörg Genslein, Minsub Hong, Christian Mücke, tenor; Stefan Drexlmeier, Werner Matusch, Johannes Schendel, bass
[CdlT] Friederike Otto, cornett; Birgit Bahr, alto shawm; Falko Munkwitz, Tural Ismayilov, Yosuke Kurihara, sackbut; Annette Hils, bass dulcian; Adrian Rovatkay, bass dulcian, great bass shawm; Anne Schumann, Mechthild Karkow, violin; Irene Klein, Heike Johanna Lindner, Barbara Hofmann, viola da gamba; Felix Görg, violone; Ulrich Wedemeier, Johannes Vogt, theorbo; Martina Fiedler, Martin Knizia, organ

500 years Reformation and its effects on the history of music can be approached from different angles. In recent years various discs have been released with music which was written under the influence of Martin Luther. The present disc is a bit different: it emphasizes the similarities between Protestant and Catholic sacred music. Despite all the differences in doctrine, there was much similarity in the choice of texts, and music by Catholic composers was sung by choirs in the Lutheran regions of Germany. Many German composers who were firmly rooted in the Lutheran doctrines, were inspired by the musical developments in Catholic Italy. The programme has two threads: the Magnificat, the canticle of Mary, which was part of the Vespers and was also sung in Protestant Germany, albeit mostly in German, and Da pacem, Domine, another text frequently set by both Protestant and Catholic composers. The latter had a special meaning in Germany in the time of Heinrich Schütz, as it suffered heavily from the Thirty Years War, one of the effects of the religious division of Europe.

The concept of this disc explains why the chorale plays a small role in the programme. Musically speaking, this form was the main difference between the two religious camps. Luther emphasized the importance of the use of the vernacular and the versification of Psalms and other parts of the Bible, which would allow the faithful to sing. It did take some time before the congregations in Protestant Germany sang the chorales themselves. The first hymnbooks were especially intended for school choirs, which sang them during services. The best-known chorale from Luther's pen, Ein feste Burg, is represented here by an instrumental setting by Michael Altenburg.

Two of the main composers of Protestant sacred music in Germany were Michael Praetorius and Heinrich Schütz. They have in common that both were strongly influenced by the newest musical fashions from Italy. Unlike Schütz, Praetorius never went to Italy; his knowledge about the Italian style was based on printed editions and copies in manuscript of compositions by, for instance, the Gabrielis. This comes especially to the fore here in the two settings of the Magnificat by Giovanni Gabrieli and Praetorius. Both are in the Venetian polychoral style, the former on the Latin text from the Vulgata, the latter on Luther's translation. Praetorius's setting is more modern, though, as he incorporates elements of the monodic style, which was promoted by someone like Giulio Caccini, and which was used only sporadically and with some restraint by Gabrieli.

Heinrich Schütz went to Italy twice: first to study with Gabrieli (1609-1611), then later (1628/29) to see and hear for himself what the latest trends in Italian music were. In both cases these visits left their marks in his own compositions. The polychoral style manifests itself in the collection of Psalmen Davids, whereas the concertato style in which the solo voice played such an important role, finds its expression in the collections of Symphoniae Sacrae and the Kleine Geistliche Konzerte. From the first volume of the latter O süßer, o freundlicher (SWV 285) is taken; it is scored for solo voice and bc. In contrast Gabrieli's setting of a comparable text, Dulcis Jesu patris imago, is very different; here solo voices only appear in the first half and they have not the elaborate and highly ornamented parts we find in Schütz's sacred concertos. Even so, Schütz always mentioned Gabrieli as his only teacher. He held him in high esteem all his life, and in his Geistliche Chormusik of 1648 he in fact returns to his old teacher's instructions, especially as in his preface he emphasizes the importance of counterpoint, which any would-be composer should master. From this collection Schütz's setting of Verleih uns Frieden is taken, later followed by its second part, Gib unsern Fürsten.

Whereas Ein feste Burg represents the exclusively Protestant element in the programme, the Catholic side manifests itself in Claudio Monteverdi's setting of the Marian antiphon Salve Regina. It is also an example of the style Schütz came to know during his second stay in Italy, as it is scored for three solo voices and bc. It is an example of a text which would never be set by a Protestant composer and never be included in the collections of motets for school choirs, published in Germany in the early 17th century.

There are a few other pieces which don't fit to the major theme of this recording and rather demonstrate the musical developments of the time. The disc opens with an instrumental piece by Moritz of Hesse who played such an important role in the career of Schütz. Luca Marenzio has become best known for his madrigals, but is here represented with a polychoral motet, Jubilate Deo. This was written when he worked in Poland in 1596, where the cori spezzati technique was very popular. Orazio Vecchi is best known for his madrigal comedies, but here we hear one of his motets, performed instrumentally. The least-known composer in the programme is Girolamo Parabosco. Little more than a collection of madrigals has come down to us. Da pacem is an instrumental ricercare in four parts; the plainchant melody is in the tenor and is sung here by the tenors of the RIAS Kammerchor.

This is one of the world's best chamber choirs which often participates in performances and recordings of early music, with period instrument ensembles. No wonder its performances on this disc are very respectable. This sounds as if I am not overly enthusiastic. That is correct: I have heard many good performances of 18th-century music from the RIAS Kammerchor, but I feel that a choir like this is less suited to the repertoire of the 16th and early 17th centuries. The altos are all female, which I find a bit problematic. But in some of the pieces, such as those by Kerle and Schütz, the choir is too large. This and the style of singing results in a lack of transparency; the text is also often hard to understand. Several members of the choir sing solo parts, and they do so rather well. Schütz's O süßer, o freundlicher is nicely sung by Anja Petersen; I like the messa di voce, but regret the modesty in the application of ornaments. The three soloists in Monteverdi's Salve Regina deliver a performance which is stylistically convincing, but not very expressive. In particular the text of a Marian antiphon needs much more excitement, considering the importance of Marian devotion in the time of the Counter Reformation. The playing of the Capella de la Torre is excellent.

This disc offers an interesting programme and overall the level of the performances is pretty good. But it still leaves something to be desired; in most cases more could have been made of the music performed here.

Johan van Veen (© 2017)

Relevant links:

RIAS Kammerchor
Capella de la Torre

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