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Hans Leo HASSLER (1564-1612)
Lateinische Messen und Deutsche Madrigale (Latin Masses and German madrigals)

Missa octo vocum (Mass for eight voices) [20’34"] (pub.1599)
Deutsche Madrigale: Ihr Musici, frisch auf (6vv) [2’52"]; Ich bring meim Bruder (8vv) [1’52"]; Das Herz tut mir aufspringen (4vv) [1’11"]; Nun fanget an ein guts Liedlein zu singen (4vv) [1’12"]; Ach Lieb, hier ist das Herze (4 lower voices) [2’03"]; Frisch auf! Lasst uns ein guts Glas (6vv) [2’11"]; Ach weh des Leiden (5vv) [2’23"] (pub.1601); Feinslieb du hast mich g’fangen (4vv) [1’36"]; Tanzen und Springen (5vv) [1’19"]; Mit Tanzen, Jubilieren (6vv) [1’34"]; Im kühlen Maien (8vv) [1’44"]
Missa Ecce quam bonum (5vv) [15’41"]
Kammerchor der Augsburger Domsingknaben/ Reinhard Kammler
Recorded 28-31 July 2003 at the Aula der Grundschule Biberach
ARS MUSICI AM 1366-2 [57’19"]

Hassler was baptised in Nuremburg on 26 October 1564, where his father had been a burgher since 1555, having moved there from the Erz mountains and was a heraldic stone-mason or gemstone cutter and organist of the Hospice Church. He moved to Venice after 1575, where he met Giovanni Gabrieli, Claudio Merulo, Orazio Vecchi and others. He spent fifteen months in Venice, then travelling to Augsburg in March 1585 for a wedding of the Fugger family into whose employ he entered in January 1586 as a chamber organist. In 1595, the Emperor ennobled him, when he took the title "Hassler von Roseneck". Augsburg City Council appointed him leader of the city musicians and city Music Director in 1600. Hassler asked for release from these duties in December 1601. He was appointed senior musician of Nuremburg and in 1608 became Chamber Organist to the Elector of Saxony in Dresden. He died in 1612 in Frankfurt am Main.

The Augsburger Domsingknaben are today among the leading German boys’ choirs, and can point to a tradition that stretches back into the 15th century. The choir was re-founded in 1976 by Reinhard Kammler as an institution of the Diocese of Augsburg. There is intensive voice training together with regular liturgical services in the Cathedral, with Gregorian chant, early classical polyphony, Viennese classics and Bach’s vocal works ensuring a consistently high standard. As far as I can ascertain from a photograph, the choir consists of approximately thirty trebles, and sixteen lower voices. I do not know for certain whether an alto part is given to boys in puberty whose voices are breaking - I certainly hope not, but there are boys in the picture who must be 15-16. No indication is given in the accompanying booklet.

How felicitous then, that a ready-made choir of this standard is available in the town of Hassler’s first employment. He is probably best known to English choral singers for the motet Dixit Maria, but in fact had quite a large output, as is shown on this disc. The music is well crafted and very enjoyable in a pre-Baroque pattern, with a typical Continental style of both composition and singing. This gives a lively if somewhat four-square presentation. The choir is well-drilled, and the presence of boys makes for a bright, occasionally slightly harsh, tone. The one aspect I found disturbing was the tendency to flatness in pitch on the higher notes in an ascending cadence. At other times, when asked to hit a note from outside the scale, the intonation was perfect. The other intrusion was a lapse in breathing with an audible intake in the middle of a phrase or even words on a long passage, but this latter only occasionally. There is a naturally youthful sound, and the choir sound as if they really enjoy their music, with good attack and exemplary word endings. The style is in the Continental slight staccato style, but this suits the music, and the ambience of the Hall is very bright, with a slight echo.

The German madrigals seem best suited to this style of singing and presentation, and the more lively of these are given a real swing. The masses suffer most from the shakiness in intonation, and are perforce of a more serious and slower style. The Mass for eight voices sounds rich in texture, but in fact the performance of the Mass Ecce quam bonum is more satisfying. As far as I can ascertain, only Ach weh des Leiden and Tanzen und Springen are otherwise available.

The booklet is disappointing; in addition to the lack of information on the choir, the masses have texts in German and Latin, the madrigals in German only; translations in English would have been welcome.

A useful disc to acquaint oneself with this composer, accompanied by acceptable singing from a youthful choir.

John Portwood

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