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REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

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Hans Leo HASSLER (1564-1612)
Sacred Choral Works
Mainzer Domchoir/Domkantorei St. Martin
Mainzer Dombläser/Karsten Storck
rec. Mainz Cathedral, 2014
RONDEAU ROP6097 [58.32]

Perhaps, like me you have only encountered Hassler’s music, via the Missa super Dixit Maria, a fairly straightforward setting along with its motet (both recorded here) and available in cheap and cheerful editions. You might also have come across him in various anthologies — for example The King’s Singers Madrigals Vol. 2 — represented by quite simple pieces like Tanzen und springen or Ach, weh des Leiden and that is probably that.

Last October marked the 450th anniversary of Hassler’s birth, an occasion marked by an hour’s broadcast on Radio 3’s Early Music Show but nothing else. That is until this CD arrived earlier this year. It seems that to some German singers, even it appears at one time to the musical director of Mainz Cathedral, who is directing these performances, Karsten Storck, Hassler was only really known as a madrigalist. This was as a consequence of the popularity of the above-mentioned madrigals. The discovery that he was a much more prolific composer of sacred works came as something of a shock. I suppose it’s the equivalent of British musicians discovering that the composer of Now is the month of Maying wrote hundreds of pieces of church music and had studied for many years under Giovanni Gabrieli, which is exactly what Hassler did a generation before Schütz. Indeed the style and mood of these pieces is very Italianate with much work for double choir, brass canzonas, brass and voices and concertante pieces. It must be said however that Hassler rarely exceeds five parts and yet manages to create a ‘massive’ choral sound. This is generally homophonic but with subtle counterpoint and always with interesting, moving inner parts. Clearly however the glorious double choir Missa Octo Vocum is the exception.

The performances capture the spirit and temper of the music and the acoustic of Mainz Cathedral, which is over four seconds, adds to their impressive qualities. It is only noticeable, you will be glad to know, at the end of each track. The music is almost unremittingly joyous and really lifts the spirits. Hassler gets through the Glorias in extra quick time, no doubt much to the joy of most clergy. The Agnus dei of the Missa Ecce Quam Bonum has only the ‘dona nobis pacem’ sung by the choir. The first two petitions are just in plainchant. Incidentally only three movements from each mass have been recorded omitting the Credo, which the Mainz choir never use liturgically, and the Sanctus.

Strangely, Hassler has no physical connection with Mainz cathedral. Karsten Storck, who is interviewed by Jan-Geert Wolff as part of the booklet notes, tells us that “There are over forty shelf markings” in the cathedral archives “devoted to Hassler” and that Storck’s predecessors found Hassler’s music useful because it “ideally suited boys’ voices”. Looking at the striking colour photos built into the text there are an enormous number of boy trebles in an all-male choir, many of them young men. They make a wonderfully open and positive sound, typically continental. The choir was founded as recently as 1866 and still sings on a weekly basis and on feast days.

The central tracks of the CD offer a chance for the brass alone with a set of five brief movements, presumably dances. These are described as being “after Hassler” but are given under Italian speed terms. The most memorable is the fourth marked Andante cantabile.

The booklet has lavish colour photographs of the performers and of the glorious baroque cathedral, fully translated texts and with biographical notes. Altogether a most enjoyable disc of some glorious and under-rated music which spans a bridge between the renaissance and the burgeoning baroque.

Gary Higginson

.

Track-listing
1. Intrada [1.28]
2. Christ ist erstanden [1.39]
Missa Ecce quam bonum:
3. Kyrie [1.25]
4. Gloria [2.57]
5. Agnus Dei [2.11]
6. Alleluja: Laudem dicite [2.46]
7. Canzona a 6 [1.35]
Missa Octo vocum:
8. Kyrie [3.27]
9. Gloria [3.48]
10. Agnus dei [3.03]
Suite for Brass:
11. Andante maestoso [1.47]
12. Allegro moderato [1.04]
13. Andante cantabile [1.16]
14. Andante moderato [3.03]
15. Allegro [1.21]
16. Verleih uns Frieden [1.05]
Missa Super Dixit Maria:
17. Kyrie [1.55]
18. Gloria [3.35]
19. Agnus dei [1.22]
20. Motette: Dixit Maria [2.47]
21. Angelus Domini [3.20]
Missa Come fuggir:
22. Kyrie [2.41]
23. Gloria [2.45]
24. Sanctus [1.08]
25. Benedictus [1.06]
26. Agnus dei [1.53]
27. Jubilate Deo [2.04]


 



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