Baroque Christmas in Hamburg
Angelus ad pastores ait a 12 [4:57]
Magnificat 5. toni a 8 [12:27]
Praeambulum ex d* [4:03]
Thomas SELLE (1599-1663)
Videntes stellam magi a 8 [6:09]
Joseph! Was da? [3:43]
Heinrich SCHEIDEMANN (1596-1663)
Vom Himmel hoch* [4:23]
Ach, mein herzliebes Jesulein a 5 [4:23]
Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654)
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ** [3:55]
Johann Philipp FÖRTSCH (1652-1732)
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ [7:49]
Gegrüßet seist du, Holdselige [6:07]
Toccata vel Praeludium 1. toni** [2:38]
Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener a 10 [10:25]
Bremer Barock Consort/Manfred Cordes; Rhonda Edgington*, Eudald
rec. 21-25 September 2009, St. Marien & St. Pankratius, Mariendrebber,
CPO 777 553-2 [72:18]
With this disc Manfred Cordes once again sheds light on the
rich musical culture of 17th-century Hamburg. He usually does
so with his own ensemble, Weser-Renaissance. This time he directs
the Bremer Barock Consort, a group of students from the early
music department of the Hochschule für Künste in Bremen. It
consists here of five sopranos, two altos, two tenors and two
basses, two violins, three viole da gamba, two players of cornett
and recorder, two sackbuts, dulcian, chitarrone and organ as
well as two organists who play the solo items.
These forces are used in various combinations for a programme
which gives a good idea of the variety of the 17th century repertoire
written for the churches in Hamburg. It varies from a small-scale
piece for three solo voices, two violins and bc, like Christoph
Bernhard's Ach, mein herzliebes Jesulein, to large-scale
works in polychoral style such as Hieronymus Praetorius's Angelus
ad pastores ait. In his liner-notes Manfred Cordes gives
this description of music in Hamburg: "The motet traditions
of the late sixteenth century were still alive and mixed with
the influences of the Venetian polychorality, with the coloration
techniques also reaching the North somewhat belatedly from Italy,
and above all with the new concertizing style over the thorough
bass with its intensified expressive possibilities." The
programme on this disc bears witness to this description.
The first item is written in the Venetian polychoral style,
although the composer, Hieronymus Praetorius, has never been
in Italy himself. He uses a traditional text, Angelus ad
pastores ait, to which fragments from a traditional German
hymn are added, 'Puer natus in Bethlehem (Ein Kind geborn zu
Bethlehem)'. The next piece is a Magnificat for eight
voices in two choirs. It is an alternatim setting: the
odd verses are in plainchant. But Praetorius also interpolated
Christmas hymns, just like Johann Sebastian Bach did much later
in the E flat version of his Magnificat. Here two hymns are
included: 'Joseph, lieber Joseph mein' and 'In dulci jubilo',
one of the most famous Christmas songs of all time.
In his liner-notes Manfred Cordes refers to the still living
tradition of the 16th century. Motets by masters of the polyphony
were still held in high regard in Germany in the 17th century,
and were often intavolated for organ. Thomas Selle's sacred
concerto Videntes stellam magi is also based on a 16th-century
piece, a motet with the same title by Orlandus Lassus. Liturgically
this piece is for Epiphany as it is about the magi travelling
to Bethlehem to pay honour to the new-born king.
The dialogue is a typical 17th-century format. The purest form
can be found here in Gegrüßest seist du, Holdselige by
Matthias Weckmann, in which the angel announces Jesus' birth
to Mary. The angel is sung by a tenor, supported by strings,
whereas the role of Mary is sung by a soprano with two recorders.
In his concerto Joseph! Was da? Thomas Selle follows
this pattern less strictly. Soprano, tenor and bass perform
in various combinations. The rhythm of the piece gives it a
pastoral character, in particular at the phrase "now help
me cradle a dear little child".
Hymns play an important role in the sacred repertoire in 17th-century
Hamburg. Johann Philipp Förtsch composed a sacred concerto on
the hymn Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ. The seven stanzas
are treated in various ways. The first is for a soprano, singing
the unornamented chorale melody over abundantly ornamented string
parts. In the next stanzas soprano, alto, tenor and bass sing
in various combinations, mostly on original musical material,
but with quotations from the chorale melody. The words "Jammertal"
(vale of tears) and "kommen arm" (came in poverty)
are singled out.
Christoph Bernhard was an important composer who started his
career as a pupil of Heinrich Schütz in Leipzig, to which he
returned later on. His output is still hardly explored; the
two pieces on this disc show his qualities and his versatility.
Ach, mein herzliebes Jesulein is an intimate piece: "Oh,
my dear little Jesus, choose a pure soft bed for yourself my
resting in this my heart's shrine, that I may never forget you".
This intimacy doesn't hold the composer back from writing virtuosic
ornaments in the solo parts, in particular of the two sopranos.
The disc ends with his concerto Herr, nun lässest du deinen
Diener, a large-scale piece for ten voices on the Canticum
Simeonis, here in a German rhymed version. It begins with
a sinfonia for strings on the funeral anthem 'Mit Fried und
Freud'. The first line is performed tutti, then follows a virtuosic
duet for two sopranos, a more restrained duet of alto and tenor
and lastly a solo for bass. The piece ends with a repeat of
the first vocal section. Manfred Cordes follows the composer's
suggestion to use a second choir here.
A disc like this should also include some organ pieces. Organists
were highly regarded in Germany in the 17th century, and Hamburg
had some of the very best within its walls. Most of them were
pupils of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck in Amsterdam, who was nicknamed
the 'German organist builder'. Jacob Praetorius, son of Hieronymus,
was one of them, and in his capacity as organist of St. Petri
a key figure in Hamburg. He is represented with a free organ
work, the Praeambulum in d minor. This prelude is a short
brilliant piece which reflects the great skills of the composer.
He was the teacher of Matthias Weckmann whose Toccata vel
Praeludium 1. toni is included. With Heinrich Scheidemann
we meet another Sweelinck pupil. For a long time he was organist
of St. Katharinen. We know his music only from sacred songs
and organ works. Here three verses from his chorale fantasia
Vom Himmel hoch are played. The inclusion of Samuel Scheidt
in the programme is a bit odd, as he never worked in Hamburg.
It is justified by Manfred Cordes with the fact that he was
also a pupil of Sweelinck. The three verses from his chorale
fantasia Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ are played here
as a kind of introduction to the concerto by Förtsch on the
same chorale melody.
In the 17th century the basso continuo part in sacred music
was usually played at the large organ rather than at a small
positive. This practice is hard to follow in our time, as there
are not that many organs with the right disposition and tuning,
and also with enough space in the loft. After a long search
a suitable church and organ were found: the St. Marien &
St. Pankratius in Mariendrebber, with an organ which was built
by Berend Hus - the mentor of Arp Schnitger - in 1658/59. Although
it has been modified during its history the most important stops
are still in their original condition. It is in 1/5 comma temperament
which is appropriate for the earlier pieces in the programme.
For Bernhard and Weckmann a positive was used.
The Bremer Barock Consort may consist of music students but
they produce a very fine and technically impressive recording
of this compelling programme of Christmas music. The ensemble
is very good, and the various voices are generally excellent.
Only now and then is it noticeable that these are young singers
whose voices have yet to mature. Sometimes they could have gone
further in exploring the expression of the texts but on the
whole I am very pleased by what is offered here. The pitch of
the organ is not mentioned in the booklet, but I assume it is
the high organ pitch which was common in Germany in the 17th
century. As a result some treble parts are very high, and the
sopranos deal with them convincingly.
The booklet contains a number of errors. In the tracklist the
organ piece by Weckmann is attributed to Christoph Bernhard,
who never wrote any organ piece. The lyrics contain various
mistakes and have the wrong track numbers from track 8 onwards.
Still, from every musical angle this is a very good production,
and a great addition to any collection of Christmas discs.
Johan van Veen