We have had some fine recordings of several of the individual composers
represented here - including Bach himself - but this valuable new
recording gives us at least one work by every one of JSB’s predecessors
in the office of Cantor at St Thomas’, Leipzig, not for its
whole 500-year pre-Bach history (founded in 1212), but from the time
of Sethus Calvisius who became Thomaskantor
in 1594. My only
reservation is that it seems a mistake to include music by the great
man himself; any of his predecessors is bound to sound less impressive
in his company and those ten minutes could have housed more music
from his predecessors - perhaps even some more world premiere recordings
in addition to the seven included here. Some of the music of Calvisius’
earliest known predecessor, Georg Rhau, Cantor from 1518 to 1520,
is extant, so the line could have been taken even further back.
The development in style from the earliest work to Bach’s own
is fascinating. Sethus Calvisius’s attractive but conservative
præter rerum seriem
is a reworking of a motet by Josquin;
not only does that make it appropriate for the music here to be sung
by a choir named after that composer, it also shows how little the
North German style had developed by the time of its publication in
1603. Calvisius also contributes the setting of the German paraphrase
of Veni Creator Spiritus
, a first recording, on the final track,
dating from 1597 and taking us back as we began, to a more conservative
style little removed from the plainsong setting of the Latin original
which precedes and follows it.
Yet we need only move to the second track, by Johann Schein, to find
ourselves listening to a minor masterpiece: along with his better-known
contemporaries, Heinrich Schütz and Johann Demantius, Schein
was responsible for significant developments in North German music.
His setting of the chorale Verleih uns Frieden
by the kind of instrumental introduction and interspersed with organ
passages that would develop into the organ chorale prelude and his
setting of the words takes us far from their simple unison original.
Schein also reappears on track 10 with a setting of the penitential
Tobia Michael’s Aus der Tiefe
(tr.3), another penitential
psalm, is one of the works receiving its first recording. It’s
a simple enough setting but moving and, like his other work, the brief
Unser Trübsal, die zeitlich und leichte ist
a premiere recording, it receives an idiomatic performance. I hope
that someone will give us some more of Michael’s music in due
course - Hyperion, perhaps, or another offering from Carus?
I’ve never quite managed to come to terms with Johann Kuhnau’s
worthy (instrumental) biblical sonatas - the sole CD that I own of
them has been played, I think, just once - but the three works by
him here are of more than historical interest. Tristis est anima
(tr.5) receives a slightly snappier performance than from
the King’s consort on Hyperion (see below) but one in which
the grief feels equally heartfelt without being overdone.
The choir may bear the name of Josquin des Préz and their only
other recording to date has been of his music (Missa pange lingua
Carus 83.345) but they show themselves here to be fully equal to the
performance of music dating from later, in some cases much later,
than his time. Gavin Dixon thought their singing in Josquin beautiful
but a little too uninvolved - review
I’ve got far fewer benchmarks here than in Josquin with which
to compare them but I certainly can’t accuse their singing of
the two pieces by JSB on tracks 6 and 7 of being in any way superficial.
If I have a complaint it’s that they inevitably make his music
sound so much better than any of his predecessors.
The recording is good, with a real sense of a fairly clean church
acoustic - it was, in fact, recorded in the Lutheran Church in Leipzig,
not St Thomas’s itself; this late-19th
makes a good substitute as a recording venue, though lacking some
of the reverberation of the real thing.
The booklet contains brief but useful and informative notes on each
of the Cantors represented. The translation of præter rerum
leaves something to be desired in conveying the sense of
the original - the first line means that the birth of Christ is ‘beyond
the normal order of things’ rather than ‘there is no normal
scheme of things’. Luther’s paraphrase of the Creed is
given in Catherine Winkworth’s verse translation which is sometimes
slightly at odds with the sense of the German original, but these
are very small niggles.
I hope that the brief representation of the music of some of the Cantors
here will lead purchasers on to investigate other music by them; for
starters several of them are available at budget price on the Hyperion
Helios label, very ably performed by the King’s Consort:
- Johann Schelle Sacred Music: CDH55373 - September
2011/1 Download Roundup
- Sebastian Knüpfer Sacred Music: CDH55393 - September 2011/1
- Johann Kuhnau Sacred Music: CDH55394 - December 2011/2 Download
just one item overlapping the new Carus recording
Those Hyperion recordings are an adjunct to the new Carus rather
than an alternative to it. With nothing comparable in the catalogue
that I’m aware of, the new recording deserves a strong recommendation.
There are downloads of this recording, from classicsonline.com and
eclassical.com, the latter even available in lossless sound and costing
less than the CD, but neither includes the booklet which, despite
my reservations about its brevity and the translation of the Creed,
is well worth having.
see also review by Jonathan