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Thomas STOLTZER (1485-1526) Psalm Motets
Super salutem et omnem pulchritudinem [07:39]
O admirabile commercium [03:22]
Erzürne dich nicht (Psalm 37)  [21:15]
In Domino confido (Psalm 11) [05:12]
Herr, wie lang willst du mein so gar vergessen (Psalm 13) [05:44]
Benedicam Domino in omni tempore (Psalm 34) [12:26]
Magnificat 6. toni [09:04]
Requiem aeternam [05:37]
Josquin Capella (Miriam Andersén, René Kartodirdjo (soprano), Andreas Hirtreiter, David Munderloh, Paul Kirby (tenor), Guido Heidloff (baritone), Willem Ceuleers, Joel Frederiksen (bass))/Meinolf Brüser
rec. September 2005, Steinfeld Monastery, Germany. DDD

The music of Josquin Desprez and most composers of his time has been well explored. Masses, motets and other sacred works by Josquin and the likes of Pierre de la Rue, Nicolas Gombert, Antoine Brumel and Heinrich Isaac - to mention just a few - regularly appear on concert programmes and on disc. In comparison the German composer Thomas Stoltzer is a rather unknown quantity. It was in the early 1970s that Konrad Ruhland made a recording of some of his compositions with his ensemble Capella Antiqua of Munich. This is still available on Sony in the Seon series. That recording included the four German Psalms, by far his best-known works, two of which have also been recorded on this disc by the Josquin Capella.

Stoltzer was born in Schweidnitz in Silesia, and was perhaps a pupil of Heinrich Finck, one of Germany's most important composers who flourished around 1500. From 1519 to 1522 he was a priest in Breslau (now Wrocław), and in 1522 he was appointed by Ludwig II as magister capellae at the Hungarian court in Buda. It was here that he composed the four Psalms on German texts. These are among the first to make use of Luther's translation of the Bible into the vernacular. Because of this it is assumed that Stoltzer had converted to the Reformation. That is certainly possible, but there is no firm evidence. The composition of these four Psalms can hardly be used as an argument, as he wrote them at the request of Ludwig's wife Mary, daughter of Philip the Fair. One of them, 'Erzürne dich nicht', was sent by the composer to Duke Albrecht of Prussia in Königsberg, perhaps in the hope that Albrecht would give him a position at his court. That didn't happen and Stoltzer died in 1526, drowning in a river.

The fact that Stoltzer did not live and work in the main political and cultural centres in Europe could be the reason his music was never published during his lifetime. After his death his music appeared in several collections, and was especially popular in Germany. That popularity lasted until the end of the century, when musical tastes were changing in favour of the new Italian style.

The first and last items on this disc were written for the Roman Catholic liturgy. The first piece is a Marian motet, a celebration of Mary, the Queen of Heavens, chosen to open the gates of Paradise. The last piece is the introit of the Requiem Mass, Requiem aeternam. There is no sign of Stoltzer having composed any Requiem Mass, and this is just one of the many settings from the Proper of the Mass which were quite popular at the time.

One of his most well thought of and widely-known compositions was the Christmas antiphon 'O admirable commercium', which has been found in no less than eleven sources. Stoltzer set Psalms not only in German, but also using the Latin text from the Vulgata. One of these is Psalm 34, 'Benedicam Dominum in omni tempore', a motet in four sections. Stoltzer does not use the 'cori spezzati' technique developed later in Venice; instead he splits the five parts into two groups: the two upper voices and the three lower ones. The second and third sections are entirely set for the lower and the upper voices respectively.

One of the interesting aspects of Stoltzer's works, and in particular his compositions deploying German texts, is the relationship between text and music. There is much more illustration of the text than in most compositions of the time. At several moments words or groups of words are translated into music. It is perhaps this aspect that secured the continuing popularity of these pieces during the 16th century, when the connection between text and music became closer than before. In this respect Stoltzer's music points in the direction of the oeuvre of Orlandus Lassus.

The Josquin Capella gives excellent performances here. The singing is crisp and clear and the recording technique ensures that all individual parts are clearly audible. The singers are fully aware of the connection between text and music but do not fall into exaggeration. This isn't baroque music, after all. The balance within the ensemble is excellent: no group dominates, and the voices blend quite well. I noticed with satisfaction the German pronunciation of the Latin texts. The pronunciation of the German texts isn't always perfect, but that is hardly noticeable.

One aspect of performance practice that is open for debate is whether instruments should be used, in particular in the performance of the German Psalms. In his programme notes, the ensemble's director Meinolf Brüser refers to the letter Stoltzer wrote to Duke Albrecht when sending him his setting of Psalm 37 (Erzürne dich nicht über die Bösen). Stoltzer writes: "Have thought of the crumhorns and thus set the psalm so that it corresponds very well to them, since not every vocal piece goes well with them when written in a great many voices". Brüser believes that this is not a reason to use instruments. Stoltzer's remarks appear in the main to be motivated by his wish to be appointed at Albrecht's court - the Duke seems to have had a particular preference for the crumhorns mentioned by Stoltzer. Apart from that, the character of the piece is so strongly text-orientated that it is unlikely the use of instruments was Stoltzer's ideal. The first argument is plausible: the Psalms were written for the Hungarian court, and the performance practice there should be decisive. Unfortunately no information about that is given. The second argument is much less convincing: there is a clear connection between music and text in many compositions from the second half of the 16th century – the works of Lassus are good examples - and there is ample evidence that these have been performed with instruments playing 'colla parte' or even replacing voices. It is rather tricky to decide what the composer's ideal was. What is more important is how music was actually performed. Remarks by Stoltzer suggest the use of instruments in sacred music was not uncommon. Konrad Ruhland, in the recording mentioned above, uses instruments in some pieces. In that respect both recordings nicely complement each other.

This is a fine recording, which sheds light on a composer who deserves more attention than he has been given so far. The exposure is merited both on the basis of his historical importance and the quality of his compositions. The Josquin Capella serves him well.

Johan van Veen


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