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German 17th-Century Church Music
Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott, SWV447 [4:16]
Christoph Bernhard (1628-1692) Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele? (pub. 1665) [4:46]
Johann Rosenmüller (c.1619-1684) Christum ducem, qui per crucem (1640s) [3:04]
Sonata II a 2 in E minor (pub. 1682) [7:45]
Dieterich Buxtehude (c.1637-1707) Jesu, meine Freud und Lust, BuxWV59 [6:23]
Christian Geist (c.1640-1711) Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel [6:30]
Dieterich Buxtehude Jubilate Domino, omnis terra, BuxWV64 [7:35]
Heinrich Bach (1615-1692) Sonata I in C major [3:35]
Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703) (ascribed) Ach, daß ich Wassers gnug hätte in meinem Haupte (‘Lamento’) [6:17]
Johann Michael Bach (1648-1694) Auf, laßt uns den Herren loben (1670s) [6:33]
Heinrich Bach Sonata II in F major [2:23]
Johann Philipp Krieger (1649-1725) O Jesu, du mein Leben [8:03]
Melchior Hoffmann (c.1679-1715) Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde [5:56]
Robin Blaze (counter-tenor)
The Parley of Instruments/Peter Holman
rec. St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, 8-10 September 1998. DDD. and translations.
Experience Classicsonline

I was very pleased to receive this CD for review; had I not done so, I should certainly have bought it at its new very reasonable price. Regular readers will know that I am a great admirer of the whole Helios series, with only one minor disappointment to date, the rather under-powered performance of Vaughan Williams’s Tudor Portraits - go for the Hickox version on Chandos. In the field of baroque music and earlier they have yet to disappoint and this new CD is no exception. At times I was tempted to make it Bargain of the Month but eventually settled for the lesser accolade for reasons which I shall explain.
This reissue presents the rare opportunity to survey the development of Lutheran church music between Heinrich Schütz, whose music opens the programme, and J.S. Bach to whom the final piece was once mistakenly attributed. Not surprisingly, the name Bach figures frequently in the roll-call. DG Archiv used to have a recording of vocal music by the Bach family before J.S.: I’m not sure if this is still available on CD (4745522), but it can certainly be obtained online at classicsandjazz. Ricercar used to have in their catalogue a series of performances of German Baroque Cantatas, now mostly deleted, but the most obvious competitor is another counter-tenor: Andreas Scholl’s highly regarded Deutsche Barockkantaten, also recorded in 1998 – recently reissued on the mid-price Harmonia Mundi Gold label (HMG50 1651) and available as an mp3 download from emusic.
There is also a similar collection on Chandos (Klaglied – German Sacred Cantatas: Michael Chance with the Purcell Quartet, CHAN0675 – available on CD and as downloads from theclassicalshop) which I hope to explore and review in due course. The Aradia Ensemble have recorded the Buxtehude Jubilate (Naxos 8.557041).
Only two items are common to the Blaze, Scholl and Chance recordings: Johann Christian Bach’s powerful Ach daß ich Wassers and Buxtehude’s Jubilate Domino. Scholl and Chance are noticeably slower than Robin Blaze in both works, so I began by investigating Blaze’s performance of those pieces. I did not find him at all too fast in the J.C.F. Bach, though even the normally fast-paced Reinhard Goebel on the Archiv recording takes a minute and a half longer: Blaze and The Parley of Instruments capture its mournful - though not morbid - tone excellently whilst maintaining a steady pace.
Buxtehude’s superb Jubilate Domino also lends itself perfectly to the joyful tempo which Blaze adopts. Matthew White with the Aradia Ensemble at 9:06 is slower than Scholl (8:42) and considerably slower than Blaze (7:35). Chance comes midway at 8:07. JF singled out White’s reflective performance of this cantata as one of the highlights of the Naxos recording, which he made Bargain of the Month – see review; I am sure that he is right to appreciate that performance within its own context, whilst defending Robin Blaze’s tempo to the death – yet another reminder that the stopwatch is not always a reliable adjudicator in music if the performance makes sense within its own parameters, as is the case here.
Schütz’s Erbarm dich mein is a fine work to open the programme – a minor masterpiece. The orchestral opening of this penitential appeal for God’s mercy is reminiscent of Dowland’s Lachrimæ. Blaze’s insistent singing of the invocatory words of this paraphrase of Psalm 51, well supported by The Parley of Instruments, makes a good impression from the start. Once again, his time for this work is faster than the rival Chance/Chandos, but again I did not sense that Blaze was unduly hurried.
Bernhard was Schütz’s favourite pupil, but Was betrübst du dich is no match for his teacher’s work. It is, however, a very expressive setting of words from Psalm 42, opening in a heavy, almost funereal style. The mood lightens considerably at the words ‘Wait upon God’ before returning to the serious mode at the end. Blaze captures both moods very well and the support which The Parley offers him is never less than competent.
Rosenmüller’s Christum ducem contains echoes of Monteverdi. It is a fine work, though Peter Holman, in the excellent notes, wonders what use this Latin text would have been in Lutheran Leipzig. In fact the Lutheran church was still using Latin for ‘Sunday best’ as late as J S Bach’s time, as demonstrated by Ton Koopman’s new series of JSB’s Latin church music, Volume 1 of which I have recently reviewed (CC72188 – see review.) Rosenmüller’s Sonata II provides one of a number of welcome instrumental intermissions which break up the run of counter-tenor singing, though it out-stays its welcome a little. The two sonatas by Heinrich Bach later in the programmes are much shorter and less intrusive.
Buxtehude’s Jesu, meine Freud und Lust is a cheerful cantata in its composer’s freshest manner; it receives a performance to match its sprightly hopefulness. Christian Geist’s Vater unser, a setting of the Lord’s Prayer opens in a much more serious manner; I am not sure why this rather mournful style was thought appropriate to the words and I was not greatly taken by it, though the performers do their best. They only seem fully to come to life, however, when the music bursts into a brief sunnier mood with the closing words Von Ewigkeit zu Ewigkeit, for ever and ever.
J.M. Bach’s Auf, laßt uns den Herren loben reflects on contemporary wars in other lands “but we have survived unhurt [through] God’s protection.” Despite its hopeful words, the music has a melancholy tinge, well captured in this measured performance. For once, Blaze is not faster than the competition, since his time of 6:33 compares with 6:12 on the Archiv set referred to above.
Krieger’s O Jesu, du mein Leben belies the warlike connotations of its composer’s name – a cheerful piece which receives a lively and enjoyable performance.
The final work, Schlage doch, gewünschte Stunde, ends the recital with music as fine as the Schütz which began it – little wonder that it was once attributed to J S Bach. Finis coronat opus, the end crowns the work, and the performance of this cantata is ethereal. The temptation for Charles Fulbrook to dominate the proceedings with his bells must have been considerable, but their restrained sound in the background is just right.
The first time that I played the CD right through, I found myself suffering from an over-sufficiency of counter-tenor singing. Repeated hearings have not proved so satiating – the instrumental pieces do break up the programme – but I would have preferred greater variety, as per the recent Ton Koopman CD of Bach solo cantatas for alto: three items with Bogna Bartosz as soloist, one with Andreas Scholl’s very different voice, and one tenor cantata with Christoph Prégardien – Challenge Classics CC72282 – see review. That, together with the few occasions where The Parley of Instruments did not rise above the competent level in their accompaniment, led to my decision not to make this Bargain of the Month. Yet the wonderful performance of the closing Schlage doch made me feel mean to withhold the higher accolade.
The recording is excellent throughout – close but by no means too close. The presentation is in no way inferior to the original full-price issue. The notes by Peter Holman, the director of The Parley of Instruments, are excellent. At the new price this is a real bargain.
Brian Wilson


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