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Sacred Vocal Music from 18th Century Switzerland

Franciscus Josef Lenti MEYER (1720-1789)

Hymno Ambrosiano: Te deum laudamus (1763) [10:29]
Johannes SCHMIDLIN (1722-1772)

Gloria in excelsis deo (1758) [6:19]
Magnificat anima mea Dominum(1758) [14:23]
Johann Caspar BACHOFEN (1695-1755)

Aria a due: Schäfelein wo bleibest du doch? (1755) [11:54]
Trio: Christi Tod, des Todes Tod (no date given) [3:37]
Wo is Jesus meine Liebe? (no date given) [8:02]
Johann Jakob WALDER (1750-1817)/ Johann Heinrich EGLI (1742-1810)

Drittes Morgenleid (date unavailable) [3:21]
Solo: Auf meines Gottes true (date unavailable) [1:12]
The Choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, Geoffrey Webber, conductor
The Cambridge Baroque Camerata, Jonathan Helyer Jones, director
Soloists: Helen Asby, Carris Jones, Andrew Griffiths, James Collin, Alexandra Kidgell, Julia Doyle, Clara Green, David Wright, Abigail Boreham, Richard Hopper, Catherine Bell, Jonathan Stainsby, Jennifer Dunford.
Rec. Chapel of Queens' College, Cambridge, 10-12 December 2001 DDD
GUILD GMCD 7248 [60:20]


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This is yet another program of choral and vocal music that leads us to wonder if there was not very good reason that most of it lay in vaults for years unsung. The sobriety of Swiss life in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries caused a dearth of creative music-making during the era. The works on this disc do little to make a case for the music that was written.

We begin with a rather run of the mill Te deum by Franciscus Meyer. It is a serviceable work and would suit an amateur church choir well. It is alas, predictable and repetitive, and bereft of much that is harmonically interesting or original. The choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge gives a decent performance here, but one senses no real commitment to the text. Soloists are average, and tenor Andrew Griffithsí rather swallowed tone (just that hint of a whine) does little to blend with his fellow soloists.

Johannes Schmidlinís Gloria setting of 1758 fares better. The singing of the chorus is more energetic and focused and the soli are better matched. The pastoral duet by Bachofen, which follows the Gloria, is simply annoying. Cutesy little devices like the faux-Monteverdi trillo-ette on Schäf-schäf-schäf-schäffelein are ridiculous. Even taken tongue-in-cheek this is maddening after the umpteenth repeat. Baritone Richard Hooper does nothing to bring this text alive, each dreadful repetition of the refrain being more nauseous than the last. The effect is worsened further by some deplorable German diction. Mr. Bachofenís trio Christi Tod, des Todes Tod, is a lovely hymn-like strophic setting. Alas, our soloists deliver each verse with a sameness that is numbing. Soprano Julia Doyle, in an effort to keep the vibrato out, has difficulty negotiating anything above the stave and the result is a tightness of tone that quickly strains the ear. The duet "Wo is Jesus meine Liebe?" fares better as a piece of music, but is hampered yet again by inferior soloists.

Schmidlinís Magnificat is a worthy setting. Melodic and charming it is by far and away the best work on this program. On the whole the performance here is fine, intonation is good and soloists play off each other in interesting fashion.

As a choirmaster I constantly debate with myself as to when it is appropriate to use soloists from within the chorus and when I should hire outsiders. The bulk of this disc makes a strong case for the outsiders. Nearly every piece on the program is damaged in one way or another by inferior soloists. Granted, this is a collegiate choir, and a certain amount of educational consideration for student soloists must be given. A recording, however, is forever, and it is an example to the world of the work that goes on in any institution. I have to wonder why Geoffrey Webber chose so many exposed solos to record, and then foisted them upon us with clearly second-tier singing talent. One hates to belittle the work of others, but this is a full-priced recording, and the performances do not merit the outlay of the cash.

The Cambridge Baroque Camerata are unobtrusive accompanists and turn in acceptable performances. Recorded sound is fine; program notes are average at best, and not particularly informative. I wish that I could be more charitable, but this is an average performance of average music. Not recommended.

Kevin Sutton

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