> Festive Hanseatic Music [US]: Classical CD Reviews- June2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Works by Julius Johann Weiland, Julius Ernst Rautenstein, Heinrich Albert, Andreas Hakenberger, Philipp Dulichius, Christoph Bernhard, Dietrich Becker, Matthias Weckmann, Jocaob Obrecht, Orlando Di Lasso, Andries Pevernage and Clemens non papa.
Manfred Cordes
Recording: June 17, July 1 and 29, August 19, 2000.
Sendesaal Radio Bremen DDD
CPO 999 782-2 [74:00]


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This highly interesting disc, which fills an important gap in the repertoire, is the outcome of a series of concerts given by the ensemble WESER-RENAISSANCE from Bremen, Germany, during the summer of 2000. Those concerts were dedicated to the music culture of a topographic and economic system which no longer exists. The so-called Hanseatic League not only raised a network of economic prosperity, but also a flourishing cultural and musical life.

The extracts from the concerts of summer 2000 were all recorded after the festival in a studio of Radio Bremen. Concentrating on festive music from the 15th to the 17th century (for major church feasts, and in some cases on works from the middle-class sphere), the eighteen works of thirteen composers on this disc have been grouped together in keeping with geographical criteria. Most of the works have been recorded for the first time.

The ensemble WESER-RENAISSANCE specialises in the repertoire of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In this compilation it features nineteen vocal soloists and twenty-one players on historical instruments, such as Dulzian, Trombone, Chitarone or Viola da gamba. The sound, as presented here, is a typical example of sonic clarity and lucidity. Every single member could be located in the virtual sound room. The vocal solos project sound both vivid and natural. For some listeners the resonance might be a bit short, but it gives to the pieces an intimate atmosphere.

The disc starts with three sacred concertos by Julius Johannes Weiland (c. 1605-1663), published in Bremen. They are masterpieces of polyphonic setting and recall in structure similar works by Heinrich Schütz. Julius Ernst Rautenstein’s (1590/95-1654) dialogue setting of a text of the Song of Songs, here performed by soprano and tenor and accompanied by six instrumental soloists, has quasi-operatic qualities. The double duet, between the two singers on the one hand and between singers and instruments on the other hand, rises from reserved tone to a lusty joy in the union of the voices.

Three composers from the Baltic region form the next group: Heinrich Albert (1604-1651), Andreas Hakenberger (1574-1627) and Philipp Dulichius (1562-1631). The burial motet "Omnis caro eut foenum" of the latter develops a fascinating effect of interaction between words and the dark and deep, atmospheric polyphony.

Equally delightful are the compositions of the two Schütz pupils Christoph Bernhard (1628-1692) and Matthias Weckmann (1621-1674). The influence of their mentor could be well heard, but the organisation of the vocal and instrumental texture is most eventful. Weckmann’s setting of "Es erhub sich ein Streit im Himmel" ("A battle was waged in heaven") is a gem of renaissance virtuosity.

A jump back in time, almost 150 years, brings us to the next group, starting with an old Dutch master, Jacob Obrecht (c.1458–1505). The difference in handling of the voices is evident. The polyphonic style is stiffer and solid; the development of the musical idea proceeds through dynamic and rhythmic progress rather than by melodic growth. This also holds true for the a capella song "Laudamus nunc Dominum" as well as for Obrecht’s arrangement of the popular Flemish folk song "T'Andernaken" for winds.

With Orlando di Lasso (1532-1594) we come to the most prominent composer featured in this compilation. His "Heroum soboles", written in Antwerp, dates from his early years, from 1556 to be exact, and is addressed to Emperor Charles V. The text’s servile tone ("Charles, of heroic lineage, loved by our world, you alone support the Muses’ servants in difficult times" etc.) is performed in the clear and smooth flow of the six voices.

An interesting subject, the praise of the city of Antwerp was chosen by Andries Pevernage (1643-1591) for his a capella composition à 6 voci "Clio, chantons disertement". This track demonstrates, as no other on this disc, the virtuosity and brilliance of the WESER-RENAISSANCE vocalists. Their chamber-music-like clarity, homogeneity of sound and the ability of every single voice to join the others without each losing its own characteristic timbre is most impressive. This is an outstanding ensemble, that stands, together with its director Manfred Cordes, for exemplary interpretations and for varied and true to style performances.

This is newly discovered repertoire from an almost forgotten ‘terra incognita’ of music history. It is heartily recommended, not only to all lovers of renaissance music, but also to everyone who is open to new and surprising musical experiences.

Uwe Schneider

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