musica Dei donum
Festival Early Music Utrecht 2012
G Gabrieli, Schütz: "Symphoniae Sacrae" 
Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam/Harry van der Kamp; Oltremontano/Wim Becu; Arp Schnitger Ensemble/Thomas Albert
August 24, Cathedral [Dom]
Sweelinck: Sacred and secular works, keyboard music 
Trinity Baroque/Julian Podger; James Johnstone, organ
August 25, Jacobikerk
Sweelinck: Psalms and Cantiones Sacrae 
Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam/Harry van der Kamp; Pieter-Jan Belder, harpsichord, organ
August 25, Jacobikerk
Rosenmüller: "Motets with wind" 
L'Armonia Sonora, Concerto Palatino
August 25, Pieterskerk
"Bach and Böhm: Pupil and teacher" 
Lorenzo Ghielmi, organ; Vera Milani, soprano
August 27, Nicolaïkerk
Graupner and his time 
Les Idées Hereuses/Geneviève Soly
August 27, Vredenburg Leeuwenbergh
"Luther and sacred music" 
L'École de Royaumont/Wim Becu, Lambert Colson
August 27, St. Willibrordkerk
Keiser: Brockes-Passion 
Zsuzsi Tóth, soprano; Jan Van Elsacker, tenor; Peter Kooy, bass
Vox Luminis, Les Muffatti/Peter Van Heyghen
August 27, Jacobikerk
Buxtehude, Erlebach, Tunder: "Solo motets" 
Damien Guillon, alto
Stylus Phantasticus/Friederike Heumann
Buxtehude: Keyboard music 
Luca Guglielmi, harpsichord
August 28, Lutheran Church
JS Bach, Böhm, Telemann: "Sacred songs and cantatas" 
De Profundis/Peter Kooy
August 28, Geertekerk
"Psalms and hymns of the French Renaissance" 
Ludus Modalis/Bruno Boterf
August 28, Pieterskerk
"Jesu, Fried und Freude: Buxtehude, Schein, Bach, Tsoupaki" 
Gli Angeli Genève/Stephan MacLeod
August 28, Cathedral [Dom]
Froberger, Weckmann: Keyboard music 
Maude Gratton, harpsichord, virginal
August 29, University (auditorium)
Sweelinck, Philips: Keyboard music 
Siebe Henstra, harpsichord, virginal
August 29, Lutheran Church
Philips, Byrd: Consort music 
August 29, Geertekerk
Ahle, Buxtehude, Schütz et al: Motets and chamber music 
La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
August 29, Cathedral [Dom]
JS Bach, Kuhnau, Zelenka: "Magnificat" 
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
August 29, Vredenburg Leidsche Rijn
"Trauer und Tod: Weckmann, Selle, Schütz" 
Johannette Zomer, soprano; Markus Flaig, bass
Scorpio Collectief/Simen Van Mechelen
August 29, Pieterskerk
Sweelinck: Keyboard music 
Alina Rotaru, harpsichord, virginal
August 30, Lutheran Church
Le Jeune: Chansons 
August 30, Pieterskerk
"Four times Johann: Bach's predecessors" 
Bach Collegium Japan/Masaaki Suzuki
August 30, Cathedral [Dom]
Praetorius, Schütz et al: "Polychoral marvels" 
Arsys Bourgogne, Le Concert Lorrain/Pierre Cao
August 30, Cathedral [Dom]
"Motets about death" (Sweelinck, Schein, Schütz, Weckmann et al) 
La Petite Bande/Sigiswald Kuijken
August 30, Pieterskerk
"Böhm on clavichord" 
Menno van Delft, clavichord
August 31, University (senate room)
Sweelinck: Organ works 
Léon Berben, organ
August 31, Cathedral [Dom]
"Sweelinck in Holland" (Sweelinck, Schuyt, Tollius, Verdonck) 
Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam/Harry van der Kamp; Pieter-Jan Belder, harpsichord
August 31, Pieterskerk
Weckmann, Ebart, JChr Bach: Motets 
Ricercar Consort/Philippe Pierlot
August 31, Cathedral [Dom]
Buxtehude, Capricornus, Meder: "Motets" 
Eugénie Warnier, soprano
Le Parlement de Musique/Martin Gester
Sept 1, Pieterskerk
"French chansons from Dutch sources" 
Ensemble Clément Janequin/Dominique Visse
Sept 1, St. Willibrordkerk
In 2010 the Festival Early Music Utrecht was devoted to the French baroque, whereas in 2011 the music scene in Rome was explored. This year the festival moved towards the north-western part of Europe. 'From Sweelinck to Bach' was the umbrella under which a large number of concerts explored the ways in which Sweelinck has played a role in the development of European music of the 17th and 18th centuries and the influences which have made Bach the composer as we know him.
The main reason to choose Sweelinck as the starting point of the festival was the commemoration of his death in 1612. One of the artists in residence was Harry van der Kamp, founder and director of the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam, which in recent years recorded the complete vocal oeuvre by Sweelinck for the very first time. The opening concert - which I could only hear through radio - was not devoted to Sweelinck, but rather to Giovanni Gabrieli and his pupil Heinrich Schütz . The latter is an example of a composer who integrated Italian influences in his music which is largely based on the German polyphonic tradition. Bach knew Schütz' music, and did the same as his 17th-century colleague: integrating Italian theatrical expression in his polyphonic writing. For both counterpoint was still the foundation of all music, and until the end of their lives they wrote polyphonic music. The attention which was given to Gabrieli is well-deserved: like Sweelinck he died in 1612, and he had a major influence on Schütz, who always held him in high esteem. One way in which Gabrieli influenced music history was the practice of the cori spezzati: the juxtaposition of various groups of singers and instrumentalists. This in itself is a dramatic element and allows composers to create contrasts for expressive reasons. In Gabrieli's compositions the connection between text and music is closer than was customary in the 16th century. The various elements mentioned here came to the fore in the concert by the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam, supported by the wind of the ensemble Oltremontano and the strings of the Arp Schnitger Ensemble.
On Saturday afternoon the ensemble Trinity Baroque  devoted an entire concert to the oeuvre of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. The various aspects of his activities as a composer were exposed: Psalm settings on French texts, based on melodies of the Genevan Psalter, Cantiones Sacrae in Latin, Italian madrigals and French rimes. Moreover, some of Sweelinck's keyboard works were played by James Johnstone, most of them at the large organ of the Jacobikerk.
As interesting and varied the programme was, the concert revealed the problems of performing Sweelinck's music. First of all, Utrecht has various historical organs, but none of them is really suited to Sweelinck's music. In order to reveal his harmonic escapades one needs meantone temperament, and no organ in Utrecht has this temperament. Moreover, in a church with a large reverberation one needs to articulate extremely well in order to achieve the clarity and transparency this music requires. James Johnstone wasn't very successful in this department, and his tempi didn't make it easier to follow the lines and passages.
Performing Sweelinck's vocal music in such a space isn't easy either, in particular as his vocal music is largely written for private rooms, even his psalms and probably also his Cantiones Sacrae. It wasn't a very good idea to sing some of Sweelinck's madrigals in this large space. The ensemble decided to perform some from various spots in the church, and this allowed the listener to conclude that the ensemble was less then perfect, mainly due to the vibrato in the upper voices. On a positive note the ensemble used the historical pronunciation of French (although that was probably not totally consistent) and Latin. The madrigalisms in Sweelinck's setting of Psalm 148 came off well.
The same Psalm was performed during the evening concert in the same church, this time by the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam . As this ensemble has recorded Sweelinck's complete vocal music the singers are fully familiar with his idiom, and know how to explore its idiosyncracies. The ensemble put Sweelinck in his historical context, by confronting some of his Psalm settings with compositions on the same Psalms by Giovanni Gabrieli, Cornelis Boscoop - his predecessor as organist in the Oude Kerk in Amsterdam - and Didier Poncet. The latter is especially interesting as he was at the service of the eldest son of Willem van Oranje, the leader of the Dutch revolt against Spanish rule. His setting of Psalm 137 (Vulgate: 136) is also on a French text, but different from Sweelinck's in that it is not strophic and not based on the tune from the Genevan Psalter. But like Sweelinck he makes use of madrigalisms, and his setting turned out to be a very fine piece. As he composed several Psalm settings I am very curious to hear other music from his pen.
The Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam provided brilliant and incisive performances. The contrasts with the concert of Trinity Baroque were obvious, and not due to the acoustical circumstances. These were largely the same, but Harry van der Kamp and his colleagues handled them better. The main differences were the effect of a different approach of the Gesualdo Consort. The text is in the centre, and this explains that the articulation is better, the rhythmic patterns are more clearly exposed, and there is more differentiation in dynamics. As a result the impact of their performances was much stronger. Pieter-Jan Belder played two pieces by Sweelinck and Gabrieli at a positive organ, and the former's Fantasia chromatica at the harpsichord. He did so well, but those at the far end of the church will probably not have heard that much.
The ensemble Ludus Modalis, directed by Bruno Boterf , devoted a concert to Psalm settings and hymns by French contemporaries of Sweelinck. Although some composers use the tunes of the Genevan Psalter, it was mainly free settings which were performed. The link between them is that all the texts are strophic and in French. In their compositions they make use of polyphony and homophony and now and then they turn to madrigalisms to illustrate elements of the text. Just like in Sweelinck's psalm settings this music is in fact chamber music. Obviously the performances were adapted to the acoustical circumstances, but as a result we probably didn't experience these Psalm settings as they were intended. I would like to hear this music in more intimate surroundings. That doesn't take anything away from my great appreciation for the interpretation of Ludus Modalis. Three composers were represented in the programme: Claude Le Jeune, Paschal de l’Estocart and Guillaume Costeley. Only in the latter's setting of Psalm 133 the Genevan tune turns up. Notable is Le Jeune's setting of Psalm 81 for the fact that in the third section the number of parts is reduced to three. This was common practice in the renaissance, but never for textual reasons. In this case it is used to single out that part of the text in which God himself is speaking. Ludus Modalis presented itself as an excellent ensemble of fine, well-blending voices. The delivery was as good as possible in the reverberant acoustic.
Claude Le Jeune was then at the centre of a concert by the ensemble Daedalus, directed by Roberto Festa . This time no Psalm settings were performed but rather chansons in the various styles the composer made use of. On the one hand we heard chansons in the traditional polyphonic style, on the other hand chansons were performed which followed the principles of the musique mesurée. In this style it is the text which determines the rhythm of the music. This resulted in a captivating programme which revealed the quality and versatility of Le Jeune's music. Some chansons are quite long - especially if sung in the mostly moderate tempi which Daedalus had chosen -, and because of that in many cases only some stanzas were performed. It would be interesting to know how contemporary practice may have been in this regard. The ensemble consists of outstanding singers with nice voices which resulted in an excellent ensemble. Some chansons were sung a cappella, in others the singers were supported by viols and lute. Although the articulation of the singers was very good, the text wasn't always easy to understand. That is a problem in a large space like the Pieterskerk. The chansons were alternated with some well-played instrumental pieces.
The Ensemble Clément Janequin, directed by Dominique Visse , also performed French chansons, this time from 'Dutch' sources. In this case that means: from collections printed in the Southern Netherlands, in particular Antwerp and Louvain. The only exception is the collection of Rimes françoises et italiennes by Sweelinck which was published in Leiden in the Northern Netherlands. Alongside some pieces by Sweelinck the ensemble sang chansons by Claude Le Jeune, Thomas Crecquillon, Clément Janequin, Jacobus Clemens non Papa and Nicolas Gombert. One piece was anonymous and another by the little-known Christianus de Hollandre. Many chansons are of an amorous character, others are satyrical and a programme with French renaissance music can hardly do without a hunting scene. This time it was La chasse du Lievre by Nicolas Gombert, almost exclusively known for his serious masses and motets. Incidentally, the level of the texts of some chansons is such that they are better left in the archives. The Ensemble Clément Janequin always provides lively and evocative performances and this concert was no exception. In between the chansons some keyboard pieces by Sweelinck were performed on harpsichord and organ, sometimes together with the lute.
This ensemble's performance of some chansons by Sweelinck was quite different from the interpretations of the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam. Interestingly they both sang his setting of Susanne un jour. The French ensemble opts for long lines, largely sung legato, whereas the Gesualdo Consort goes for a more detailed approach, on the basis of the text and a delivery which is as clear as possible. The ensemble devoted one concert to Sweelinck and his Dutch contemporaries Cornelis Floriszoon Schuyt, Cornelis Verdonck and Jan Tollius . Only the first is relatively well-known, the others are pretty much unknown quantities. The quality of the madrigals which were performed during this concert suggests they deserve more attention. It wasn't only secular music that was sung: the programme also included some of Sweelinck's Psalm settings. The ensemble's director, Harry van der Kamp, stated in his programme notes that he wanted to show the connection between the composer's sacred and secular music. That came well off thanks to the good choice of pieces from his oeuvre. The Gesualdo Consort dealt better with the acoustical circumstances than Daedalus the day before, and because of that the texts were more easily to understand. The consort's ensemble is outstanding, and in some pieces for two or three voices the individual qualities of the singers came to the fore. Because of the sound technique full attention can be given to the expression of the text which makes every concert of this ensemble an event to treasure.
Relatively little attention was paid to the English contemporaries of Sweelinck. In his keyboard recital Siebe Henstra  juxtaposed pieces by Sweelinck and Peter Philips, but otherwise only some music for viol consort was played by Phantasm . Philips was also represented in their programme; it ended with a version for viols of the same piece Henstra had played just one hour before: Pavana & Galiarda dolorosa. The concert also started with Philips, and included pieces by Richard Dering, Byrd and Holborne. One of the most impressive compositions was a fantasia by Byrd (not specified in the programme book), which was followed by the Fantasia No. 6 by Dering, remarkable for its daring harmonies. It was quite usual at the time to perform liturgical music on viols; in this programme we heard a Kyrie and an Agnus Dei as well as the motet Christe redemptor omnium by Byrd. Phantasm provided captivating performances, showing a good sense of dynamics and rhythm. The more serious pieces were played with a high amount of concentration and intensity, the more lighthearted pieces with joyful flair.
The subject of this year's festival, 'From Sweelinck to Bach', was a little too ambitious and probably also a little misleading. It suggests that there is a connection between these two composers. But, first of all, that connection is confined to keyboard music; in other genres there seems to be no connection at all. Secondly, it is unlikely Bach knew any music by Sweelinck himself. It was through his German pupils that Sweelinck contributed to the development of the North-German organ school, whose main representative in the late 17th century was Dietrich Buxtehude. It was this master whom Bach was eager to hear and to meet, and who influenced his development as a composer, not only of organ music, but also of sacred vocal music.
Through a series of keyboard recitals on various instruments - organ, harpsichord, virginals and clavichord - the development of keyboard music between Sweelinck and Bach was explored.
Like last year the festival had a precious historical instrument at its disposal: a virginal built in Antwerp in 1604 by Hans Ruckers II. It was played by Siebe Henstra, Alina Rotaru and Maude Gratton in their respective recitals. Sweelinck's keyboard music was exposed in three recitals. In Siebe Henstra's recital  he was juxtaposed to Peter Philips who may have visited Sweelinck in Amsterdam. The latter at least knew Philips' music as he composed a Pavana Philippi, an arrangement of Philips' Pavana and Galliardo. Henstra played them successively - an interesting confrontation. Philips was also represented with two arrangements of secular vocal works, Amarilli mia bella (after Caccini) and Margot Laboresz (after Lassus). One of his finest pieces is the Pavana & Galiarda dolorosa which received a profound interpretation. The recital started with imaginative performances of a toccata and a fantasia by Sweelinck (unfortunately unspecified in the programme book). Also present were Allemande gratie (formerly known as More Palatino) and Poolse allemande (Soll es sein). The recital ended with a captivating performance of the Hexachord Fantasia.
In 2010 the Romanian-born harpsichordist Alina Rotaru  released her first recording which was devoted to Sweelinck. This year's festival offered an opportunity to hear her live in this repertoire. She presented a nice survey of Sweelinck's oeuvre. The first half opened with the Fantasia chromatica and ended with the Paduana Lachrymae. In between she played several variations, such as Onder een linde groen. In the second half she played, among others, the famous variations on Mein junges Leben hat ein End. The recital ended with the Fantasia on a fugue by Sweelinck by John Bull. It was the first time I heard Ms Rotaru played and I was impressed by her interpretations. She plays in a very relaxed manner, but her performances are energetic and technically immaculate. I had the impression that sometimes the tempi were fluctuating which must be deliberate. If so, that could be up for debate. The two halves of the programme were interrupted by a contemporary piece, Closing In by Lucas Wiegerink (*1985). The programme book didn't tell anything about it and the reasons for its inclusion were a bit of a mystery. I didn't like it, but it is nice that it ends with a wink to Sweelinck's time.
I already mentioned the fact that Utrecht hasn't a historical organ which is really suited to the music of Sweelinck or the 17th century in general. It was quite interesting to hear Léon Berben  in a Sweelinck recital at the Bätz organ of 1831 in the Cathedral. It needs to be said that in this organ some pipework of the former instrument, built in the 16th century, has been preserved, in particular in the Rückpositiv. It was this part of the organ which Berben used for his recital. This part of the organ can rarely be heard independently, which made his performances especially interesting. The result was more than acceptable, in particular thanks to Berben's articulation and registration. He dealt much better with the acoustical circumstances than James Johnstone in the Jacobikerk during the Trinity Baroque concert. Even with pretty fast tempi everything remained clear and transparent. In the chorale arrangements the cantus firmus was always clearly audible. In these pieces the colour palette of the Rückpositiv came to the fore. The free organ works received captivating and often monumental interpretations. The recital ended with the Fantasia chromatica, and it was interesting to hear it at the organ, after having heard it several times at the harpsichord.
The recital by Maude Gratton  was the first time I heard the 1604 virginal. Due to a very low pitch (a=388) it produced a rather soft sound, but that didn't cause any problems. Ms Gratton's playing made it clearly audible in the auditorium of the University. She had put together a nice programme of pieces by Froberger and Weckmann and one piece by Johann Caspar Kerll. Ms Gratton played with the right amount of freedom where that is required, like in the prelude of Weckmann's Suite in g minor and his toccatas. The stylus phantasticus, characterised by strong contrasts, was brought out well. On the other hand she played the dances from the suites by Weckmann and Froberger with much verve and marked accents, making their rhythmic pulse felt. The recital ended with an expressive interpretation of Froberger's Lamentation sur la mort très douloureuse de sa Majesté Impériale Ferdinand III. As an encore Ms Gratton played his Lamento sopra la dolorosa perdita della Real Maestà di Ferdinando IV Rè de Romani.
Very few composers had such an influence on Bach as Dietrich Buxtehude. It was especially his organ music which Bach admired; whether he also knew his harpsichord works is hard to say. The commemoration of Buxtehude's death in 2007 has resulted in several complete recordings of his music for harpsichord. What exactly was written for the harpsichord is not always clear. The suites obviously are intended as harpsichord music, but the preludes and toccatas for manuals only can be played either at the organ or on the harpsichord. Interesting is the chorale partita Auf meinen lieben Gott, which is not only for manuals, but also composed in the style of a suite. This points in the direction of the harpsichord. In his recital Luca Guglielmi  offered an interesting survey of the various genres of keyboard music for manuals. Guglielmi delivered engaging interpretations full of contrast. His playing was virtuosic and some of his tempi were quite fast, but it was the substance of the music which was at the heart of his performances, with some nice poetic playing in the slow movements. The recital ended with a piece which seems to be expilicitly written for the harpsichord, the Preludium in g minor (BuxWV 163).
Another composer who had a major influence on Bach was Georg Böhm. Recent research has revealed that the connection between them was much closer than was previously assumed. It was particularly nice to hear the clavichord which was an important keyboard instrument in the 17th century. Menno van Delft played music by Böhm and Bach and also by Johann Kuhnau, in the intimate atmosphere of the senate room of the University. His refined and speech-like style of playing made sure that the various lines were clearly audible, also the chorale melodies in Kuhnau's Biblische Sonate Der todtkrancke und wieder gesunde Hiskias. The programmatic character of this piece as well as Bach's Capriccio sopra la lontananza del fratello dilettissimo was realised convincingly. We heard two beautiful suites by Böhm and the recital ended with a fine performance of his Prelude, fugue and postlude in g minor. I had heard it twice before, on organ and on harpsichord, but this was the best performance of the three.
The interpretation of this piece at the organ was given by Lorenzo Ghielmi , who played a programme of music by Böhm and Bach in the Nicolaïkerk. The problem is that the organ in this church is a neo-baroque instrument built in the 1950s by Marcussen. I very much dislike it for its unpleasantly sharp amd harsh sound, and I needed to overcome my reservations. Böhm's piece I just mentioned showed some of the organ's characteristics, but in the remaining programme Ghielmi managed to largely disguise the ugly sides of this instrument. In Böhm's chorale prelude Vater unser im Himmelreich he almost made it sound like a true baroque organ. It is in particular in the chorale partitas that Böhm influenced Bach. Ghielmi played one by both: Böhm's Wer nur den lieben Gott läßt walten and Bach's O Gott, du frommer Gott (BWV 767). The recital ended with Bach's Prelude and fugue in C (BWV 531), an early work which shows the influences of Böhm as well as Buxtehude. In between some sacred songs for voice and basso continuo were sung, by Böhm and by Bach. The latter were from the Schemelli Gesangbuch which are attributed to Bach; to what extent they are indeed from his pen is impossible to say. The soprano Vera Milani sang them nicely, but it was hard to understand the text. That was largely due to the acoustic; these songs are written for performances at home, not in a large church.
Every year a large part of the festival is devoted to vocal music. Here there is no real connection between Sweelinck and Bach. Most programmes concentrated on German sacred music of the 17th century. The composers of this time can probably be considered Bach's predecessors, but the term forerunners should be avoided. It would suggest that the composers of the 17th century represent only a stage in a development which would inevitably lead to Bach. That is certainly not the case. The music of this time can stand on its own. The repertoire is voluminous and shows great versatility and depth; no festival can do real justice to that. The main importance of these concerts was that they displayed the artistic and religious climate in which Bach was to compose his sacred music.
German music was strongly influenced by the Italian style. That started with several composers studying with Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice. One of the most prominent was Heinrich Schütz who held his teacher in high esteem until the very end of his own life. Gabrieli's compositions are in the stile antico, but he paid much attention to the connection between text and music. This had a lasting influence on Schütz; for him the text always came first. I have already mentioned the opening concert with music by Gabrieli and Schütz.
The concert of the ensemble L'École du Royaumont  included some striking examples of his command in setting a text, such as Fili mi, Absalon and Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott. He found his match in Franz Tunder who was represented with Ach Herr, lass deine lieben Engelein. Here the instrumental parts, which Tunder has set for strings, were performed by cornetts and sackbuts. That wasn't a very happy decision as they are at odds with the intimate character of the piece. The balance with the soprano Alice Foccroulle was less than ideal. The subject of this concert was the influence of Martin Luther in German sacred music. Part of his influence was his emphasis of the importance of the use of the vernacular. German texts obviously spoke much stronger to the heart of the faithful than Latin. The use of German was one of the main incentives for the likes of Schütz to set texts in an evocative way. Another aspect of Luther's influence is the use of hymns. They were incorporated in sacred concertos and motets in the 17th century and in cantatas and oratorios in the late 17th and in the 18th century. The concert started with Bach's organ arrangement of the chorale Durch Adams Fall ist ganz verderbt (BWV 705). Another chorale, Aus tiefer Noth, could be heard in a concerto for two voices by Johann Hermann Schein. But Luther didn't completely do away with Latin in liturgy. We heard Cantate Domino by Hieronymus Praetorius and two Latin motets by the little-known Johann Knöfel (1533-1617). The singing of the ensemble was excellent, and so were the performances of the instrumentalists who also played some pieces by Samuel Scheidt and Johann Schop.
In his time Giovanni Gabrieli was the main representative of the cori spezzati technique. This was much admired and copied elsewhere in Europe. In Germany it was in particular Michael Praetorius who composed many polychoral pieces. A concert by Arsys Bourgogne and Le Concert Lorrain , directed by Pierre Cao, presented a programme with music by Hieronymus and Michael Praetorius - not related -, Heinrich Schütz and two members of the Bach family, Johann (1604-1673) and Johann Michael (1648-1694). Cao used the Cathedral to good effect for a spatial arrangement of the twelve singers, but not in an extreme way. Only in Schütz' Jauchzet dem Herren one of the 'choirs' was positioned at one of the aisles of the church. It is striking how clever composers used the polychorality to underline elements in the text, for instance "veni" ("veni de Libano, veni coronaberis") in Tota pulchra es by Hieronymus Praetorius. In this concert Lutheran hymns turned up once again, like in Michael Praetorius' Gott der Vater wohn' uns bei and Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern. One of Schütz' most famous pieces for double choir is his Deutsches Magnificat. It was an interesting and nice concert, although there could have been more text expression. In pieces like those by Michael Praetorius the use of wind instruments playing colla voce could have lent more weight and colour to the performances.
During the 17th century huge numbers of sacred concertos were written for various scorings. Many of them show again the influence of Italian music, but then of a later stage. Schütz visited Italy when Monteverdi was at the height of his career and he adopted elements of the new Italian theatrical style without ever cutting off his roots in the German contrapuntal tradition. Other composers were never in Italy but became acquainted with the latest trends through manuscripts circulating across the continent. In several concerts specimens of the concertante style in sacred music in Germany were performed.
Stylus Phantasticus, directed by Friederike Heumann , concentrated on two composers who worked at the Marienkirche in Lübeck: Franz Tunder (1614-1667) and his successor Dietrich Buxtehude (1637-1707). We heard once again Tunders Ach Herr, lass deine lieben Engelein, this time with strings which resulted in a more satisfying performance. The alto Damien Guillon provided a highly expressive performance, as he did in the Klag-Lied which Buxtehude wrote at the occasion of his father's death. As so often it was performed incomplete: only five of the seven stanzas were sung. Quite different is Jubilate Domino, with an obbligato part for the viola da gamba. Friederike Heumann played this part very nicely just like the solo part of the Sonata in a minor by Johann Schenck. The concert ended with an aria in three dacapo stanzas by Philipp Heinrich Erlebach (1657-1714) and another aria as an encore. These were two beautiful pieces which were given engaging performances by Damien Guillon and the ensemble.
Among the most expressive compositions of the 17th century are the sacred concertos by Matthias Weckmann. If there is any influence of the Italian theatrical style it is here. A number of them were performed during several concerts. No less than four were on the programme of the Ricercar Consort, directed by Philippe Pierlot . After a sonata by David Pohle we heard Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe which was a little disappointing as the voices of Carlos Mena (alto), Hans Jörg Mammel (tenor) and Stephan MacLeod (bass) didn't blend that well. The latter sang Kommet her zu mir. I am not particularly fond of his voice, but his text expression was outstanding. It is a technically demanding piece because of the various extended coloraturas on single syllables. In Zion spricht, der Herr hat mich verlassen the three soloists made a much better impression. Mammel sang Miserere Christe mei by Samuel Ebart (1655-1684) who doesn't have an entry in New Grove and about whom the programme book didn't tell anything. As it also omitted the lyrics it is impossible to tell how Mammel treated the text. He sang it beautifully, though, and a snapping string of Philippe Pierlot's gamba didn't seem to bother either of them. It was followed by one of the German baroque's most emotional pieces, Ach, daß ich Wassers g'nug hätte by Johann Christoph Bach which was given a brilliant and very touching performance by Carlos Mena. It was definitely the highlight of this year's festival. The concert ended on a high note with a fine performance of Weckmann's Weine nicht.
La Petite Bande, directed by Sigiswald Kuijken, gave two concerts with German music from the 17th century. In the first concert  we got another performance of the Klag-Lied and once again incomplete. Buxtehude added this piece to the sacred concerto Mit Fried und Freud which he had written previously for the funeral of a Lübeck pastor. In this concert the two pieces were performed together, but in reverse order which is rather odd. They were given fine performances by the soprano Gerlinde Sämann, though. Also on the programme were two concertos from Schütz' Symphoniae Sacrae II, a setting of Miserere mei Deus by Scheidt and two sacred concertos by Johann Rudolph Ahle. Gerlinde Sämann made a good impression, much more than her colleagues, the tenors Christoph Genz and Knut Schoch whose interpretations were too straightforward, with too little sensitivity towards the text.
The second concert by La Petite Bande  was, according to the programme book, devoted to motets about death. But most pieces had little or nothing to do with that. The concert started with two Cantiones Sacrae by Sweelinck: Beati omnes and Magnificat. It was followed by a motet by Scheidt, two sacred madrigals from Schein's Israelsbrünnlein, excerpts from Schütz' Musicalische Exequien and sacred concertos by Matthias Weckmann and Christoph Bernhard. The two pieces by Schein were disappointing: only last year I heard far better, more incisive performances by Gli Angeli Genève. In this concert the ensemble was better than the individual singers which - with the exception of Gerlinde Sämann and the bass Dominik Wörner - couldn't really convince.
The concert by the Scorpio Collectief  had much more to do with death and - more in general - sorrow. Its starting point was the Thirty Years War (1618-1648) which caused so much devastation in Germany. After Scheidt's Gagliarda Battaglia we heard a moving lament by Johann Hildebrand (1614-1684), Ach, Gott! Wir habens nicht gewußt, was Krieg vor eine Plage ist, followed by Scheidt's Paduana dolorosa. Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener is the German version of the Nunc dimittis, which was often included in funeral music in Germany. Therefore the performance of a setting by Schein was appropriate. The bass Markus Flaig provided a good performance of Schütz' masterpiece Fili mi Absalon. Also represented was Thomas Selle who was Musikdirektor in Hamburg from 1641 until 1663. In that year he fell victim to the plague which swept off about a third of the city's population. Weckmann's sacred concerto Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste was written at this occasion. It is a very dramatic and emotional piece, and that came off rather well in the performance. But in the end it wasn't quite satisfying because the Scorpio Collectief performed the string parts on muted sackbuts, which had a quite magical effect but lacked the subtlety this piece requires. The voices of Markus Flaig and Johannette Zomer didn't blend that well, and their performance was too theatrical.
Weckmann was strongly influenced by the Italian style, and so was Johann Rosenmüller, even before his departure to Venice. His music without any doubt belongs to the best which has been written in the 17th century. L'Armonia Sonora and Concerto Palatino  devoted a concert to his music with a varied programme of two psalms of praise (Confitebor tibi, Domine and Laudate pueri Dominum), the penitential psalm Domine ne in furore tuo arguas me, Salve mi, Jesu which is an arrangement of the Salve Regina, and the sacred concerto O, Salvator dilectissime. The latter was given a beautiful reading by the alto Robin Blaze in which he realised the coloraturas impressively; the intimate, almost pietistic character came off less well. The use of cornetts and sackbuts in this piece seemed not very appropriate, also as Rosenmüller scored it for strings. Hana Blazíková gave a perfect interpretation of Confitebor tibi, Domine, thanks to her clear voice, outstanding articulation and effective use of dynamics. The bass Peter Kooy was impressive in Domine ne in furore tuo, exploring the theatrical passages to full effect. The concert opened and closed with pieces for three voices, with an immaculate blending of the three soloists. Also on the programme was the Sonata XI a 5, beautifully played by strings and wind.
Within a span of 10 days it is impossible to do justice to the richness of German musical culture of the 17th century. Many of the most important composers of the time were represented in one or several of the concerts but I could easily make a list of other important figures who were ignored. Two names which hadn't appeared in any of the programmes before were represented in a concert on the last Saturday by Le Parlement de Musique, directed by Martin Gester . The first was Samuel Capricornus (1628-1655), whose sacred concerto Jesu, nostra redemptio is scored for solo voice, viola da gamba and bc. The gamba plays a long introduction, and a ritornello after the second stanza. That part was played well by Emmanuelle Guigues. The second new name was Valentin Meder (1649-1719) whose penitential psalm Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht was sung. Eugénie Warnier is best known as opera singer, and her dramatic capabilities can be useful in repertoire which is influenced by the Italian theatrical style. Meder's piece certainly received a dramatic performance but unfortunately it was marred by a frequent wobble. The opening work of the programme, Buxtehude's cantata O dulcis Jesu (BuxWV 83), has a quite pietistic character and requires much more restraint, and at the same time a kind of internalized text expression. That didn't come off. The instrumental items by Buxtehude and Rosenmüller were not really captivating, due to the rather bland playing of the instrumentalists.
In my review of the concert of L'École de Royaumont I already referred to the influence of Martin Luther on German sacred music. Part of that is the hymn; he encouraged poets and composers to write hymns which congregations could sing. He himself set an example with hymns which are sung until this day. One of them is Mit Fried und Freud which turned up in several concerts and was one of the threads of the concert by Gli Angeli Genève, directed by Stephan MacLeod . The second thread was another hymn which has remained popular well into our time: Jesu, meine Freude. The text is by Johann Franck (1618-1677), the melody by Johann Crüger (1598-1662). Francis Jacob first played both hymns at the organ. Then we heard a setting of Mit Fried und Freud for two voices and bc by Johann Hermann Schein, nicely sung by Céline Scheen and Aleksandra Lewandowska. The second half opened with - again - Buxtehude's Fried- und Freudenreiche Hinfahrt. We heard here both parts, Mit Fried und Freud and the Klag-Lied, but the latter again incomplete. The performance of the Klag-Lied with two sopranos singing unisono was rather odd. I had preferred the alto Alex Potter as he was marvellous in Mit Fried und Freud. He also gave an outstanding performance of the aria 'Ich will auch mit gebrochnen Augen' from Bach's cantata Mit Fried und Freud (BWV 125) which closed the concert. Jesu, meine Freude was represented with two pieces: Buxtehude's cantata (BuxWV 60) and Bach's motet (BWV 227). Both received fine performances; Bach's motet made a particular good impression. Here the excellent text expression was especially notable. Various elements in the text were singled out, in line with the rhetorical tradition of the German baroque. In some sections the soloists were joined by ripienists; I couldn't see any reason for that.
Now and then contemporary pieces are included in programmes with early music. I am not in favour of this practice: people come to listen to early music; if they want to hear contemporary music they go elsewhere. In this concert two pieces by Calliope Tsoupaki (*1963), based on the two hymns which were in the centre of the programme, were performed. I don't assess their quality: I have no antenna for contemporary music. Fortunately they didn't do too much damage to my ears which are programmed for early music. They also were praiseworthy short.
Harry van der Kamp was one of the artists in residence; the other was Masaaki Suzuki, who is first and foremost known for his complete recording of Bach's cantatas. He gave several concerts with his Bach Collegium Japan; I attended two of them. The concert in the Cathedral  was devoted to music by four composers from the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Johann Kuhnau was Bach's predecessor as Thomaskantor in Leipzig. Two cantatas were performed: Gott, sei mir gnädig and O heilige Zeit. It was a little unfortunate that Suzuki had chosen cantatas which are already available on disc; the largest part of Kuhnau's oeuvre is still undiscovered. As I know these cantatas from the recording by Cantus Cölln I had to get used to a performance with a choir, but the Bach Collegium Japan sang and played them with great conviction and impressive text expression. The mostly rather short solos were beautifully sung by Joanne Lunn, Margot Oitzinger, Makoto Sakurada and Dominik Wörner. It is praiseworthy that Suzuki pays much attention to a correct pronunciation of German. The often strong contrasts within the texts came off to optimum effect.
Two beautiful motets by members of the Bach family were then sung by five soloists: Das Blut Jesu Christi by Johann Michael and Der Gerechte, ob er gleich zu zeitlich stirbt by Johannn Christoph. The singers don't cooperate in an ensemble on a permanent basis, but Suzuki managed to weld them together. The last part of the programme consisted of pieces by Johann Pachelbel. Pieter-Jan Belder played three Magnificat-fugues at the chamber organ, and then we heard two chorale cantatas: Was Gott tut, das ist wohlgetan and Christ lag in Todesbanden. They were given inspired performances, again with a remarkably good text expression.
The thread of the other concert - which took place one day earlier - was the Magnificat . The concert opened with a festive setting for solo voices, choir and an orchestra of strings, oboes, trumpets and timpani by Johann Kuhnau. This beautiful piece only underlined that his oeuvre deserves more attention. Next came two settings by Jan Dismas Zelenka, in C (ZWV 107) and in D (ZWV 108). They don't belong to his most exuberant compositions but even so reflect the brilliance of this composer. The setting in D is mostly for soprano solo, lovely sung by Hannah Morrison, in alternation with the choir repeating the opening phrase as a refrain. The concert ended with the Magnificat in D (BWV 243) by Bach. The soloists - who also sang with the choir in the tutti - gave fine performances: Joanne Lunn and Hannah Morrison, with their clear and agile voices; Margot Oitzinger, a beautiful dark voice, probably a bit lacking in volume, and Dominik Wörner, with his strong low register and his excellent treatment of the text. Slightly disappointing was the tenor Makoto Sakurada; he sings a lot in opera these days, and that shows as he is too much concerned with sound production rather than delivery.
Especially interesting were the trumpets in this concert, played by Jean-Paul Madeuf, Gilles Rapin and Joel Lehens. Madeuf specialises in playing the natural trumpet without any aids to correct the intonation. So far I had only heard them in La Petite Bande's recording of the Brandenburg Concertos. It is great that Suzuki now is willing to take the risk as well. Risky it is as sometimes the intonation goes off, like in the early days of historical performance practice. But in my view it is fully worth the effort; it can give new impulses to the interpretation of baroque music.
Looking back I have to say that Masaaki Suzuki surpassed my expectations. He fully lived up to his status as artist in residence.
As the festival focussed on 'ways to Bach' his contemporaries were not that well represented. Zelenka was one of the exceptions, and so was Christoph Graupner. The Canadian harpsichordist Geneviève Soly has made the exploration of his oeuvre her life's work. She has recorded a number of discs with his keyboard music and with her ensemble Les Idées Heureuses  she performs his instrumental and vocal oeuvre. Graupner may be a contemporary of Bach but he has little in common with him - or with any of his contemporaries, for that matter. He was very much his own man, and his music hardly includes anything which is reminiscent of what was written in his time. In this concert he was put into his historical context, with pieces by Handel - whom he knew from his years in Hamburg - and two sonatas for keyboard and violin which have been preserved in his handwriting, but according to Ms Soly are very likely not composed by him. One has to take her word for it, because they are every inch as unconventional as Graupner's own music. These sonatas seem to me a most interesting addition to the repertoire. Olivier Brault gave fine performances of the violin part. A truly authentic Graupner piece was the Sonata in F for the unusual scoring of viola d'amore - played by Brault - and bass chalumeau (Vincenzo Casale) with basso continuo. The bass chalumeau was sometimes a bit overshadowed by the viola d'amore. Whether that is due to the difference in volume or Casale's playing was too restrained is hard to say. Interesting was also the inclusion of a keyboard piece by Zachow - Handel's teacher in Halle - who died in 1712, a fact which has largely escaped the music world.
Telemann was almost absent from the festival. Fortunately he was represented in the concert of De Profundis, directed by Peter Kooy . It presented vocal and instrumental chamber music around Bach. François Fernandez gave a good reading of the latter's Sonata in G (BWV 1021) for violin and bc. From Telemann's oeuvre two cantatas were taken, both for solo voice, violin and bc. Margot Oitzinger sang Halt ein mit deinem Wetterstrahle from the collection Harmonischer Gottesdienst, Peter Kooy was the soloist in Ich will den Kreuzweg gerne gehen. Both cantatas have strongly dramatic traits, reflecting Telemann's skills as an opera composer. These aspects were convincingly brought to the fore by the two singers. They also sang some of Georg Böhm's sacred songs for voice and bc which were written for the chamber rather than the church. As a result they came off much better in the relatively intimate acoustic of the Geertekerk than before in the larger Nicolaïkerk in the concert of Lorenzo Ghielmi. The concert opened and closed with keyboard pieces, played by Lorenzo Feder. I liked in particular the partita Ach wie nichtig, ach wie flüchtig. It is often performed at the organ - which is perfectly legitimate - but as it has no pedal part it was probably first intended for the harpsichord.
Lastly Reinhard Keiser: Bach's senior (1674-1739) but in many ways more modern. His setting of the Brockes-Passion from 1712 bears witness to that. Although Bach used some fragments from the libretto in his own Passions, it is unthinkable that Bach would replace the text of the gospels with a paraphrase like Brockes did or would ever give an aria to Jesus. Keiser's Brockes-Passion is a kind of opera on a sacred text. He was considered one of the greatest opera composers of his time, but today he is still highly underestimated. That is unfair as the performance of the Brockes-Passion showed. The various characters have their own arias, reflecting on Jesus' Passion. Zsuzsi Tóth was marvellous as Tochter Zion, making a great impression with her pure voice and incisive text expression. Peter Kooy sang the role of Jesus, and did so very well, as always. Jan Van Elsacker gave a good performance of the role of the Evangelist, but his German pronunciation isn't always idiomatic. The tempo of the recitatives is a matter of debate. The tutti were sung by the outstanding vocal ensemble Vox Luminis. Several of its members also sang solo parts. Among them the soprano Caroline Wijnants, the tenor Fernando Guimarães and the bass Hugo Oliveira were particularly notable. Peter Van Heyghen has made several splendid recordings of baroque oratorios, with his orchestra Les Muffatti. This performance was another jewel in their crown, and it is great that their interpretation of Keiser's Brockes-Passion has been recorded to be released on disc. The performance in Utrecht was one of the highlights of the festival.
Time to sum up. The good news is that the overall quality of the performances was high. Obviously there were some disappointments, but I haven't heard anything bad. Also good news is that Sweelinck's vocal music was firmly put on the map. Many music lovers will probably not have heard much of it before, and that made the attention given to it especially important. The two artists in residence, Masaaki Suzuki and Harry van der Kamp, lived up to the expectations. Ticket sales rose once again, for the third year running. That was probably not that big a surprise, considering the theme of the festival. On the other hand, due to the financial crisis many people have much less to spend. One has to wait and see what the effects of the crisis will be in the years to come.
The bad news is that the festival has lost a considerable part of its subsidies from the central goverment. The local and provincial authorities haven't decided yet as to whether or to what extent they will cut their subsidies as well. This year's edition has proven again the festival's artistic status and as a result its economic importance for the town and the region. That should convince the authorities that cutting subsidies could well be counterproductive. Even so, the festival will become even more dependent on private sponsorship. One has to hope that the organisation will succeed in surviving the effects of cuts in public spending.
Johan van Veen (© 2012)
Top of page