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Vienna Vocal Consort

rec: [no date given], Vienna, Maria am Gestade
Klanglogo - KL1430 (© 2013) (54'23")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list
Scores Von Burck

Joachim VON BURCK (1546-1610): Die deutsche Passion, Das ist die Historia des Leidens unseres Herrn Jhesu Christi, nach dem Evangelisten S. Johanne; Im Garten leidet Christus Not; Passio Jesu Christi im 22. Psalm des Propheten Davids beschrieben; Wolfgang FIGULUS (1525-1589): Meine Seele erhebt den Herren; Caspar OTHMAYR (1515-1553): Mein himmlischer Vater - In manus tuas [1]; Hieronymus PRAETORIUS (1560-1629); O vos omnes

[1] Caspar Othmayr, Epitaphium D. Martini Lutheri, 1546

Elke Pürgstaller, soprano; Sonja Napetschnig, contralto; Martin Jan Stepanek, tenor; Michael Stelzhammer, baritone; Christoph Chlastak-Coreth, bass

There was a time that the very word 'Passion' in regard to music was almost immediately associated with the two Passions of Johann Sebastian Bach. Today we can listen to a variety of Passion settings as in particular historical performance practice has looked beyond the oeuvre of Bach and has brought compostions by the likes of Schütz, Theile, Telemann, Gebel and Homilius to our attention. However, even today only a small number of Passion settings are regularly performed and recorded. Especially settings from the late renaissance and early baroque still wait to be rediscovered. This disc by the Vienna Vocal Consort includes two compositions for Passiontide by the German composer Joachim von Burck. At least the St John Passion has been recorded before (Ensemble Vocal Sagittarius, directed by Michel Laplénie; Erato, 1990). I don't know whether the other work, the Passio Jesu Christi, has been recorded here for the first time; I have never seen it on disc before.

Joachim von Burck is one of the composers who worked in the wake of the Lutheran Reformation, and his oeuvre reflects the influence of Luther's liturgical reforms. In 1595 he published a collection of 15 Psalms in a German rhymed version, and collections with German sacred hymns in 1599 and 1615 respectively. Luther didn't completely banish Latin from the liturgy, and this explains that Von Burck also composed many sacred pieces on Latin texts. The list of his works also include four Passions. That needs to be specified, because only two are settings of the accounts of Jesus' Passion in the Gospels, in particular those by St Luke and St John. The third is a setting of Psalm 22 - also included here - and a compostion on Chapter 53 from the book of the prophet Isaiah. The latter two parts of the Bible are traditionally connected to Jesus' Passion.

Von Burck was inspired by several composers of the late renaissance, among them Orlandus Lassus. That comes to the fore in the way he illustrates some passages in his music, especially in the St John Passion. On the other hand he practises the ideals of Luther in this work as it is mostly homophonic. "(...) I have aimed to set the words to the music in a manner that almost each syllable has its own note and that the four parts sing the words simultaneously in order that the listener can hear the words clearly". It is intended to "be useful to those whose minds are set to sing or hear it sung". It was part of Luther's 'theology of the Cross' to let the congregation re-experience the suffering of Jesus in order to imprint on them the need of salvation through his passion and death. Obviously we are far away from the dramatic Passion of the 18th century. However, Von Burck does include an element of dialogue in his Passion, as in some passages he juxtaposes two pairs of voices - usually soprano/alto vs tenor/bass - representing characters in the story. Moreover, some phrases are repeated in order to emphasize them, for instance the question of Jesus: "Why do you hit me?"

One of the most emotional parts from the Book of Psalms is 22. The opening phrase, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me", is quoted by Jesus - it is the fourth word from the Cross. Von Bruck's setting is divided into four sections: the first comprise the verses 1-11, the second vs 12-22, the third - set for three voices - the verses 23 to 25, and the last section sets the verses 26 to 32. In contrast to the St John Passion this work is dominated by polyphony, in the manner of the Franco-Flemish school of which Lassus was a representative. The voices have more independence and the text is given less prominence.

The programme is extended with motets by other composers who worked in the Lutheran tradition. Caspar Othmayr's Mein himmlischer Vater - In manus tuas is called Verba Lutheri ultima, Luther's last words. Hieronymus Praetorius composed a setting of O vos omnes; this text was traditionally part of the Tenebrae Responsories sung during Holy Week. From Von Burck's own pen is the motet which opens the programme, Im Garten leidet Christus Not - "in the garden Christ is suffering". The disc ends surprisingly, with a setting of Luther's German version of the Magnificat, by Wolfgang Figulus who was Thomaskantor in Leipzig from 1549 to 1551. According to the booklet it is included as a "ray of light". However, we should remember that in the liturgical tradition of the Church the Magnificat was not bound to a specific part of the ecclesiastical year, but was an integral part of the Vespers.

The Vienna Vocal Consort performs this music with one voice per part which makes for a clear audibility of the text. That is all the more important as the booklet omits the lyrics. Only after listening to this disc I found out that a pdf file with texts and translations can be downloaded from the ensemble's site. Strangely enough this is not mentioned in the booklet.

I urge anybody interested in liturgical music considering this disc. This music is not often heard but deserves to be more frequently performed. The Vienna Vocal Consort delivers incisive interpretations and fully explores its expressive qualities.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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