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Uns ist ein Kind geboren - Concertos and arias for Christmas
Pavel Josef VEJVANOVSKY (1633/39-1693)
Sonata tribus Quadrantibus [3:30]
Christoph BERNHARD (1627/28-1692)
Fürchtet euch nicht [7:18]
Currite pastores [4:50]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
O Jesu Christ, dein Kripplein ist (TWV 1,1200) [14:34]
Göttlichs Kind, laß mit Entzücken (TWV 1,1020) [9:43]
Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (1620/23-1680)
Sonata Pastorella [7:23]
Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630)
O Maria, gebenedeiet bist du [5:34]
Uns ist ein Kind geboren [4:43]
Philipp Friedrich BÖDDECKER (1607-1683)
Natus est Jesus [4:25]
Melchior SCHILDT (1592/93-1667)
Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein [6:41]
Jan Dismas ZELENKA (1679-1745)
Laudate pueri Dominum (ZWV 81) [9:40]
Hans Jörg Mammel (tenor)
L'arpa festante
rec. 17-19 February 2012, Evangelische Kirche, Zwerenberg, Germany. DDD
Texts and translations included
CARUS 83.373 [78:32]

One of the notable features of German musical life of the 17th and early 18th centuries is the large amount of music which was written. There are several explanations for this phenomenon. One is the country's political structure: there were many principalities, duchies and counties each of which had a considerable amount of independence and were ruled by aristocrats who had their own courts. For this reason there was much employment for performing musicians and composers. Add to that the many towns which had their own ensembles and the large number of churches where musicians could find a job as organist or Kantor. Moreover, music was very much part of everyday life. There was therefore a great demand for music for regular occasions like the Sundays and feastdays of the ecclesiastical year, but also for special occasions such as birthdays, weddings and funerals. Even though a large number of compositions from this era have been lost, there is much to choose from if one wants to put together a programme of music for a specific part of the year. From that angle it is a little disappointing that this disc includes only one piece which has never been recorded before. It had been very easy to find music which was new to the catalogue. That said, the pieces which have been selected are all very nice and some of them are not that familiar.
Most of the compositions are by composers from the Protestant part of Germany. The variety reflects the stylistic development from the early 17th to the early 18th centuries. However, they have two things in common: the importance of the text and the strong influence of the Italian style. In the early 17th century many German composers enthusiastically embraced the new monodic style which had emerged in Italy. This fitted well into the ideas about ecclesiastical music which had developed in the wake of the Lutheran Reformation. The text was everything, and sacred music was a kind of counterpart to the sermon. They had the same purpose: the communication of the Biblical message to the faithful. The two sacred concertos by Johann Hermann Schein perfectly demonstrate how the monodic principle was applied to sacred music on a German text. They are sung by a single voice, accompanied by a couple of instruments and supported by a basso continuo. The vocal parts include various musical figures to emphasize, explain or illustrate passages or single words in the text. Several of these figures are also incorporated in the instrumental parts. Schein worked as Thomaskantor in Leipzig and was one of the most prolific composers of his time. He suffered from ill health all his life and died at just 44. He was a close friend of Heinrich Schütz, the towering figure in German music of the time.
Christoph Bernhard was one of Schütz's most gifted pupils who worked in several places, among others Hamburg, and then was appointed as his teacher's successor at the court in Dresden. In his sacred concertos he proved himself a worthy follower of Schütz's ideals in regard to sacred music. The latter was nicknamed musicus poeticus because of his dedicated attention to the text. The same can be said of Bernhard as the two sacred concertos on this disc show. Fürchtet euch nicht is divided into various sections which are separated by instrumental ritornellos. In Currite pastores the opening section is repeated at the end. Philipp Friedrich Böddecker was from another part of Germany, and worked for some time in Stuttgart. Natus est Jesus is an example of a piece which mixes the 'sophisticated' monodic style with a popular hymn in the vernacular: Joseph lieber Joseph mein.
Melchior Schildt is exclusively known for his organ music. He worked in Hanover and is a representative of the North-German organ school. Only one vocal piece from his pen has come down to us. According to New Grove nine vocal works have been lost. In his organ music the Lutheran chorales play a crucial role. Ach mein herzliebes Jesulein is also a kind of chorale arrangement, although the chorale melody is treated with considerable freedom. That goes in particular for the second stanza, where the words "zu springen, singen" (to leap and sing) are vividly illustrated in the rhythm. In the third stanza the last words of every line are repeated as an echo.
With Telemann we move into a different atmosphere. Both cantatas comprise recitatives and arias, showing the influence of Italian opera. However, Telemann does not move away from the Lutheran principle that the text has primacy. That is certainly the case in the recitatives where every detail of the text can be illustrated. The arias also include some fine examples of text illustration. When the last aria from O Jesu Christ, dein Kripplein ist says: "Entice me like a hen" Telemann doesn't miss the opportunity to illustrate the clucking of a hen with a quickly repeated note in the violin. The first aria refers to "persecution, fear and pain" which are expressed in the harmony.
The programme is extended with pieces by composers who were not German by birth. Vejvanovsky was from Bohemia and a trumpet virtuoso. His sonata seems to have no specific connection to Christmas, but fits well into a programme in which the trumpet regularly turns up. That is also the case in the closing work, Laudate pueri Dominum, by Jan Dismas Zelenka. He was also from Bohemia and a contemporary of Bach. This psalm setting has again no connection with Christmas; it is a fixed part of the Vespers liturgy. However, because of its content it is suitable to be included in this programme. Zelenka often comes up with surprises, and that is the case here as well. In the closing "Amen" the piece seems to come to an end with the last note in the tenor part, but then the trumpet comes in with a short solo which rounds things off. Lastly Schmelzer: a composer from Austria who worked at the Imperial court in Vienna. The Sonata pastorella includes siciliano rhythms and towards the end one can clearly pick up the imitation of bell-ringing in the bass.
Hans Jörg Mammel is a specialist in this kind of repertoire. He has participated in numerous recordings of German music of the 17th and 18th centuries. This results in a completely idiomatic approach. As I have already stated, the text is the key issue here. Therefore Mammel's ability to make sure every single word is audible cannot be welcomed enough. He is very well aware of the connection between text and music and the means the composers used to illustrate the text are fully explored. Mammel opts for just the right amount of rhythmic freedom in Telemann's recitatives. He also has no problems with the demanding coloratura in Zelenka. Here the cooperation between singer and trumpeter Martin Patscheider - who plays brilliantly - is perfect. The other instrumentalists play in true rhetorical manner: in this music the instruments are also supposed to "speak", and that is exactly how they are played.
This is a very attractive and compelling programme of music for the Christmas period, well suited to repeated listening.
Johan van Veen