musica Dei donum

CD reviews

"O güldnes Licht"

Georg Poplutz, tenora; Jürgen Banholzer, organ

rec: Nov 2020, Stade, Kirche St. Cosmae et Damiani
fra bernardo - fb 2121577 (© 2020) (78'45")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - no translations
Cover & track-list

Bartolomeo BARBARINO (c1568-c1617): In te Domine speravia; Dieterich BUXTEHUDE (c1737-1707): Nun freut euch lieben Christen g'mein (BuxWV 210); O Gottes Stadt, o güldnes Licht (BuxWV 87)a; Passacaglia in d minor (BuxWV 161); Prelude in d minor (BuxWV 140); Was mich auf dieser Welt betrübt (BuxWV 105)a; Benedictus DUCIS (c1492-1544): Nun freut euch lieben Christen gmeina; Martin LUTHER (1483-1546): Nun freut euch lieben Christen gmeina; Johann Adam REINCKEN (1643-1722): An Wasserflüssen Babylon; Franz TUNDER (1614-1667): An Wasserflüssen Babylona; Ich dich hab ich gehoffet, Herr

In today's performance practice sacred music that was intended for liturgical use is mostly accompanied with a small organ. That has very practical reasons. Such music is often performed in modern concert halls which have either no large organ at all or an instrument that is suitable for later, mostly symphonic repertoire. And even if such music is performed in a church, the organ is often not the most appropriate instrument for the repertoire. And if it is, not always the organ loft has enough space for an ensemble of singers and instrumentalists.

Performing sacred music with a large organ is much easier in the case of pieces for one or a few voices and basso continuo. At first sight one may think that the disc under review offers just that. However, most pieces are written for a voice and an ensemble of strings and basso continuo. The two cantatas by Buxtehude require two violins, and O Gottes Stadt includes two additional parts for a viola and a violone. Franz Tunder's An Wasserflüssen Babylon has four instrumental parts, which very likely are also intended for strings. In this recording the organ plays a transcription of the entire instrumental fabric. Unfortunately, the booklet offers a fictional 'interview' with the first builder of the organ, but no information about the music or aspects of performance practice. I am not in the position to assess whether this way of performing these cantatas is tenable from a historical point of view. However, performers of the 17th and 18th centuries were often rather pragmatic, and the performance of instrumental music on the keyboard was certainly pretty common. Bach, for instance, arranged some of his arias from cantatas for organ.

Another issue is that all the vocal parts are for soprano. Here they are performed one octave lower by Georg Poplutz. Again, I can't see any real objection to this practice. In the case of An Wasserflüssen Babylon this means that Poplutz has to explore his highest register, and has to sing in the range of an haute-contre. That is due to the fact that the organ - about which the booklet also does not include any details - is tuned at a'=493Hz.

As the vocal works by Buxtehude and Tunder are from North Germany, the use of this organ is very appropriate. That is not the case with the only piece that is originally written for voice and basso continuo: In te Domine speravi by Bartolomeo Barbarino. For some years he was organist at Pesaro cathedral, which explains his nickname Il Pesarino. Recently I reviewed a disc which includes several of his sacred concertos in the monodic style ("Il Pesarino"), and there a harpsichord is used. However, that disc also includes some pieces played on an Italian organ, and such an instrument would fit this piece better than the organ in Stade.

The oldest pieces in the programme are from the 16th century and bring us to the early years of the Reformation. Poplutz sings Martin Luther's hymn Nun freut euch lieben Christen gmein unaccompanied, and after Buxtehude's chorale fantasia, he sings an arrangement by Benedictus Ducis, who was a Protestant pastor born in Konstanz, who worked for some time in Austria and had ties to the court of Maximilian I. The work-list in New Grove mentions a four-part setting of Nun freut euch. Here it is performed alternately by voice solo and organ: Poplutz sings a line from the hymn, which is then followed by Ducis's setting on the organ.

For the organ works this instrument, built by Berendt Hus and extended by his nephew Arp Schnitger, is pretty much ideal. It has marked vocal traces, and that comes especially to the fore in the pieces that are based on a hymn. That is also emphasized by Jürgen Banholzer, who was also educated as a singer, and knows how to perform these works in a vocal style. The influence of the Italian stylus phantasticus is evident in this repertoire, and that explains the strong contrasts within the Prelude in d minor by Buxtehude. His Passacaglia in d minor is one of his most famous works, and is a specimen of a genre that was very popular in the 17th century. Reincken's chorale fantasia on An Wasserflüssen Babylon has a kind of cult status, as this work may have inspired Bach in his composition of chorale-based organ works. Here Banholzer can demonstrate the colour palette of the Stade organ. The modified meantone temperament is essential for the exploration of the features of the organ works.

Georg Poplutz is an experienced singer of early music, and a specialist in German sacred music of the 17th and 18th centuries. That shows here, as he effectively communicates the text, which is always in the centre. His diction and articulation are immaculate. There is just one issue here: in Ducis and even more in Luther his singing is too 'baroque', with marked dynamic accents, which seem inappropriate in this early music. Luther's hymn should have been sung in a more straightforward manner.

All in all, this is a very fine disc with some of the best music that was written in North Germany. If you don't like the organ, you probably should stay away from it, as the organ pieces take most of the time.

Johan van Veen (© 2022)

Relevant links:

Georg Poplutz

CD Reviews