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CD reviews

Music of the North German organ school

[I] "Splendour - Organ music & vocal works by Buxtehude, Hassler, Praetorius & Scheidemann"
Kei Koito, organa; Il Canto di Orfeo (Gianluca Capuano)b
rec: Oct 25 - 27, 2016, Tangermünde, St. Stephanskirchea; Jan 18 - 19, 2017, Milan, Chiesa di S. Marco (sacristy)b
deutsche harmonia mundi - 88985437672 (© 2017) (73'15")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

[in order of appearance] Franz TUNDER (1614-1667): Praeludium in g minor; Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (1637-1707): Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (BuxWV 211); Michael PRAETORIUS (1571-1621): Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland; Jacob PRAETORIUS the Younger (1586-1651): Christum wir sollen loben schon; Joachim DECKER (1575-1611): Christum wir sollen loben schon; Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (c1596-1663): Fantasia in G (WV 74); Dieterich BUXTEHUDE: Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren (BuxWV 212); Johann STADLMAYR (c1575-1648): O lux beata Trinitas (Temane laudum carmine); Hieronymus PRAETORIUS (1560-1629): O lux beata Trinitas (2us versus); Johann STADLMAYR: O lux beata Trinitas (Christum rogamuset Patrem, Amen); Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN: Alleluja, laudem dicite Deo nostro (Hassler); Hans-Leo HASSLER (1564-1612): Alleluja, laudem dicite Deo nostro; Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN: Fantasia in d minor (WV 83); Praeambulum in d minor (WV 33); plainchant: Magnificat anima mea; Matthias WECKMANN (1616-1674): Magnificat 2. toni (2us versus: Et misericordia); plainchant: Magnificat anima mea (Suscepit Israel - Gloria patri); anon: Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr; Nicolaus DECIUS (c1485-after 1546): Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr; Dieterich BUXTEHUDE: Wär Gott nicht mit uns diese Zeit (BuxWV 282); Jacob PRAETORIUS the Younger: Vater unser im Himmelreich; Joachim DECKER: Vater unser im Himmelreich; Georg BÖHM: Vater unser, Choralis in discantu); Vater unser a 4; Hans-Leo HASSLER: Vater unser (Amen); Dieterich BUXTEHUDE: Praeambulum a a (BuxWV 513); Claude GOUDIMEL (c1514-1572): J'ayme mon Dieu; ?Johann PRAETORIUS (1595-1660) / ?Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621): Ich lieb den Herren (Psalm 116) (3us & 4us versus); Michael PRAETORIUS: Christe der du bist Tag und Nacht; Hieronymus PRAETORIUS: Christe qui lux es et dies (1us versus)

[ICdO] Francesca Cassinari, Sonia Tedla Chebreab, soprano; Jacopo Facchini, alto; Elena Carzaniga, tenor; Walter Testolin, bass

[II] Jacob PRAETORIUS & Melchior SCHILDT: "Selected Organ Works"
Bernard Foccroulle, organ
rec: Nov 2018, Lübeck, Jacobikirche
Ricercar - RIC 400 (© 2019) (68'29")
Liner-notes: E/D/F
Cover, track-list & booklet

Jacob PRAETORIUS the Younger (1586-1651): Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt; Praeambulum in F; Vater unser im Himmelreich; Von allen Menschen abgewandt; Melchior SCHILDT (1592-1667): Herr Christ, der enig Gottessohn; Magnificat 1. modi; Praeambulum in G

The organ music written in northern Germany in the early 17th century is pretty popular among organists. In recent years quite a number of recordings have been released, especially on CPO (Friedhelm Flamme) and on Brilliant Classics. The largest part of the music written by representatives of the so-called North German organ school, was intended for liturgical use. In most recordings these are played separately, without the chorales or the chants, upon which they are based. In many cases, these vocal items are rather well-known, such as the Magnificat and the chorale Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. Howeverr, there are also pieces which are lesser-known. Examples are O lux beata Trinitas and Psalm 116 in the version of the Genevan psalter. The nice thing about the first disc under review here, is that those pieces which are based on vocal works, are preceded or followed by the sung versions of hymns or chants.

The composers included in the programme are some of the main representatives of the North German organ school, such as the members of the Praetorius dynasty, Matthias Weckmann, Heinrich Scheidemann and Dieterich Buxtehude. Some of the pieces are pretty well-known, such as Scheidemann's Praeambulum in d minor and one of the chorale arrangements on Vater unser im Himmelreich by Georg Böhm. The works of the Praetorius family are probably less familiar.

The programme opens with Tunder's Praeludium in g minor and then we get pieces about two chorales for Advent (Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland) and Christmas (Christum wir sollen loben schon). Arrangements by Buxtehude and Jacob Praetorius the younger are followed by vocal settings from the pen of Michael Praetorius (not related to the organist's dynasty) and Joachim Decker respectively.

Next is Scheidemann's Fantasia in G, representing one of the popular genres at the time, with a improvisatory character. It is followed by Buxtehude's arrangement of the hymn Nun lob mein Seel den Herren, whose text was written by Johann Gramann in 1525, as a paraphrase of Psalm 103. The melody is from the pen of Hans Kugelmann (1540), and based on a secular song. The next item is an arrangement of the hymn O lux beata Trinitas, attributed to St Ambrose (340-397) and connected to Trinity Sunday (Trinitatis). Two verses from the vocal version by Johann Stadlmayr embrace the second verse of the arrangement by Hieronymus Praetorius. As I have no complete performance of this work, I can't check whether this is a alternatim composition, which is suggested by the way it is performed here. In general it is certainly not the case that all pieces based on chants of various stanzas, are written for the alternatim practice. In cases like this, the disadvantage of this way of performing is that we only get sections of large-scale works.

That is also the case with the pieces on Vater unser im Himmelreich later in the programme. The two arrangements by Georg Böhm are presented here as being connected to some of the stanzas, but it is probably hard to prove exactly which stanza Böhm had in mind. That is mostly a matter of speculation. Before that we get a specimen of a genre which is not that well-known: transcriptions of vocal music by composers of the 16th century. Heinrich Scheidemann was one of those who created such arrangements. Alleluja, laudem dicite Deo nostro is a five-part motet by Hans Leo Hassler, one of the unjustly neglected composers of the time around 1600; in Scheidemann's organ transcription the number of parts is reduced to four.

The Magnificat is one of the main chants in the liturgy, and part of Vesper services. No wonder that it was arranged many times. Matthias Weckmann's organ version comprises four verses; here we get only the second; two others are sung in plainchant. Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr was intended to replace the Latin Gloria and as such a fixed part of any Lutheran Sunday service. Kei Koito selected an anonymous arrangement.

Ich lieb den Herren is better known as Psalm 116, as it is an arrangement of the French versification of this Psalm, included in the Genevan Psalter. It is generally attributed to Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. He took the melodies of this Psalter for his polyphonic arrangements, which he published in four books. Moreover, the psalms sung in the Reformed Church in the Netherlands were Dutch versions of these Genevan Psalms. They were known in Germany, but were never part of the Lutheran liturgy. There are also reasons to assume that these four arrangements, grouped into sections of two each, are from the pen of Johann Praetorius. As none of Sweelinck's keyboard works have come down to us in autographs, there will probably never be conclusive evidence as to who is the composer of this piece. Here we get again only a part of this work, the arrangements 3 and 4.

That is also the case with Hieronymus Praetorius's arrangement of the medieval hymn Christe, qui lux es et dies, mostly sung as an evening hymn. We first get a stanza in the German version, set by Michael Praetorius, which is followed by the first verset from Hieronymus Praetorius's arrangement.

Despite my critical remarks regarding the incomplete performance of several pieces, I rate this disc highly, as the cuts are in a way the inevitable consequence of this recording's concept. And that is one of the reasons I welcome it, as it connects a number of organ works to their vocal origin, and this way emphasizes the liturgical character of most of the repertoire of the North German organ school. Kei Koito has already proven in previous recordings that she has a good understanding of German baroque idiom, and this results in convincing performances. Thanks to the splendid historical instrument in Tangermünde and the way she exploits its possibilities, for instance with regard to registration, this is a most engaging and captivating production. The contributions of the vocal ensemble are outstanding.

Even if you have quite a number of discs with this kind of repertoire in your collection, this disc is well worth being added.

The second disc reviewed here is then entirely filled with organ pieces, without any vocal music connected to it. There would have been good reasons to include vocal settings, as most of the works by Jacob Praetorius and Melchior Schildt are based on hymns or chants. Let's have a look at these two representatives of the North German organ school.

Jacob Praetorius's grandfather, also called Jacob, had been organist of the St Jacobi in Hamburg, and after his death his son Hieronymus succeeded him. Jacob jr received the first lessons from his father and then went to Amsterdam to study with Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. He probably was one of Sweelinck's first pupils, and they seem to have had a close relationship, as Sweelinck wrote a motet for Praetorius's wedding in 1608. It is also reported Praetorius tried to copy Sweelinck's behaviour and style of playing. Bernard Foccroulle, in his liner-notes, quotes a contemporary who wrote: "Praetorius always presented himself with a certain gravity and air of individuality; he had adopted the distinguished bearing of his teacher and was always extremely correct in what he did, in the manner of the Dutch".

Vater unser im Himmelreich is an arrangement of one of the best-known German chorales. It consists of seven versets in three or four parts, some manualiter, others with pedal. Some verses explicitly require two manuals and pedal. The cantus firmus is clearly recognizable, and is mostly ornamented. Hardly known is Von allen Menschen abgewandt, which seems to have been arranged by almost no other composer. The programme notes don't give any information about what kind of chorale this is, but by searching on the internet I found that this is a rhymed version of Psalm 25 by Andreas Knöpken. The second and third variations are linked.

Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt is a chorale fantasia, which unfortunately has not survived complete. It is one of the first pieces which explicitly requires three manuals and pedal. "The work breaks off after the first four verses of the chorale; I have allowed myself to complete the work by following the line of the four final verses and by using the echo techniques that were employed by Praetorius and his contemporaries" (Foccroulle).

Melchior Schildt, who was born in Hanover, studied with Sweelinck in Amsterdam from 1609 to 1612. His activities in Germany after his return until 1623 are not documented. In that year he was appointed organist in Wolfenbüttel, and from 1626 to 1629 he was organist at the court of Christian IV in Copenhagen. When his father died in 1629 he returned to Hanover and succeeded him as organist of the Marktkirche.

Schildt was a man of considerable reputation. As late as 1732 the German composer and theorist Johann Gottfried Walther stated in his Musicalisches Lexikon "that it was said of him: he could play, according to his fancy, in such a way that one was forced to laugh or to cry". And his contemporary Johann Rudolph Ahle considered him one of the most important composers of his time. But little is known about his life or his activities as a teacher. And his oeuvre is very small: just one vocal piece has survived - at least nine vocal works have been lost - and eight keyboard works.

The five variations on Herr Christ, der einig Gottessohn are close to the style of his teacher Sweelinck. Here we also find specifications with regard to the organ needed: the opening verse is for two manuals and pedal, and the next two variations also require a pedalboard. The Magnificat 1. modi is a large-scale series of five variations over the plainchant melody. In the second variation we find another frequently employed technique: the echo, which is also present in the oeuvre of Sweelinck. It is by far the longest and most brilliant of the five variations.

Bernard Foccroulle has many recordings of organ music from the north German organ school to his credit, and he is an excellent interpreter of this kind of repertoire. Under his nimble fingers the extended figurations in the pieces recorded here, come off perfectly. He has a thorough knowledge of the instruments, for which this kind of music was written and knows how to explore their features. Here he plays a splendid instrument by Friedrich Stellwagen, who in 1636/37 extended an instrument of 1467. The pitch is a'=494 Hz; the temperament Werckmeister III modified.

This disc is an impressive monument of two great representatives of the north German organ school, which no lover of this kind of music should miss.

Johan van Veen (© 2020)

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Kei Koito

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