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Musica sacra Hamburgensis - Chorale Concertos and Chorale Variations
Thomas SELLE (1599-1663)
Jesus Christus unser heiland, der von den Gotteszorn wandt
Jesus Christus unser heiland, der den Tod überwand
Wir gläuben all an einen Gott [8.54]
Johann SCHOP (c.1590-1667)
Ich ruf zu dire, Herr Jesu Christ
Koraelen [5.21]
Allein zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ [4.27]
Christ lag in Todesbanden [4.16]
Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (c.1595-1663)
Betrubet ist zu Frist
John DOWLAND (1563-1626)
Von Gott will ich nicht lassen
Veronika Winter (soprano I); Stephanie Petitlaurent (soprano II); Christoph Heidermann (violin); Henning Vater (violin); Ulrich Wedemeier (theorbo, lute); Michael Fuerst (positive organ, harpsichord); Simone Eckert (viola da gamba, treble viol)
Hamburger Ratsmusik/Simone Eckert
rec. Deutschland Radio, Berlin, 12-15 March 2007. DDD
CPO 777 362-2 [57.46]
Experience Classicsonline

The CD booklet explains that this recording comes as part of a series entitled ‘Musica sacra Hamburgensis’. It covers various somewhat neglected genres associated with Hamburg and the period 1600-1800. This is the third instalment in the series (see below). Three of the four composers represented here are not at all well known - even in Germany.
The disc opens with the longest work on the CD ‘Jesus Christus unser Heiland’. It is a setting by Thomas Selle of a text concerning the bread and body of Christ. Selle was an extraordinarily prolific composer who was in the forefront of creating and developing the Chorale Concerto. This form did not have a parallel in any other country although a certain Italian influence can sometimes be discerned. It is for two sopranos with violin, gamba and continuo. To quote the fascinating notes by Simone Eckert - director and viola da gamba player - the gamba is used as a a “concertising” contributor to the music. Accordingly the player functions as a soloist and even sometimes a virtuoso. This creates a layer of interest largely denied which to voices due to the fact that their lines must concentrate on simple choral melodies. Nevertheless all ten verses are set slightly differently and interest is maintained. They are interspersed with a couple of instrumental interludes. The same comments could be made concerning the work - also by Selle - which closes the CD. This is the three-versed paraphrase of the Creed ‘Wir gläuben all an einen Gott’ in which the second soprano is silent for the second verse. At the mid-point of the disc comes a shorter piece - a Lutheran Easter Song - “Jesus Christus unser Heiland” which has some slightly more energetic vocal writing.
Selle was a top man in Hamburg at the time having four principal churches to serve. He took with him his musicians and his own music where ever he went allocating his time so that he was active at each church once a month. He would also have been involved on feast days. At other times the resident organist was responsible for the day-to-day musical requirements.
Johann Schop, a colleague of Selle’s, is hardly a household name either. He is featured here in four works one of which is solely instrumental. He is then one of this triumvirate of Ss as the booklet describes them – all important and well respected musicians of the city. The instrumental ‘Koraelen’ uses techniques and styles which Schop picked up when a pupil of the Englishman William Brade who worked in the low countries. This is characterised by the use of ground bass with divisions for the viol above the ground bass. Other aspects of his style are a tendency suddenly to repeat several words within a phrase many times so in ‘Ich ruf zu dir’ the words ‘to be good to my neighbour’ total outweigh the length given to them of any other line. He also favours a contrasting triple metre towards the end of the motets which is generally dictated by the text. In the Easter motet ‘Christ lag in Todesbanden’ the lines ‘That we might be happy (Das wir sollen fröhlich sein) are thus treated. Schop it seems to me is more expressive, and is much freer with his use of the choral melody. Indeed the opening of ‘Ich ruf’ is the most beautiful on the entire CD.
The last S, as it were, is Heinrich Scheidemann who is represented by a measly single piece of harpsichord music. This is a lively set of continuous variations on an otherwise unknown chorale melody: ‘Betrubet ist zu dieser Frist’. It is in the style of a secular work by his teacher Jan Sweelinck.
It may seem a little curious that John Dowland should make an appearance on this disc. However it must be remembered that he spent some years in Denmark. This solo lute piece is a set of variations on a tune, popular at the time called ‘Une jeune fillette’. This melody also occurs in the chorale ‘Van Gott will ich nicht lassen’. Incidentally the piece may be spurious. I note that Jakob Lindberg in his box set of Dowland’s complete Lute music (Brilliant Classics 93698/1-4) does not include it.
The performances on this CPO disc are excellent although the balance does seem slightly to favour the instruments. Does that matter when they have the greater interest, you may ask? The sopranos are delicious with well controlled and often disguised vibrato, expressive words and good contrast of vocal colour. The instrumental work is sometimes breathtakingly brilliant.
This is, it’s true, somewhat specialist repertoire. It is however a sign of the healthiness of our times that we can hear such music not to mention being evidence of the exploratory endeavour of many musicians. A disc such as this also serves to demonstrate the commitment of such entrepreneurial companies as CPO. Thus are we able to learn and discover the music of composers, eras and places dustily forgotten in archaic tomes or otherwise doomed to remain names in long-overlooked manuscripts.
Gary Higginson

Reviews of other releases in this series
Volume 1 - Andreas Romberg Der Messias 7773282 review
Volume 2 - Hieronymus Praetorius San Marco in Hamburg 7772452 review


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