RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Matthias WECKMANN (1616 - 1674)
Ricercar Consort, Cappella Sancti Michaelis/Erik Van Nevel, La Fenice/Jean Tubéry, Siebe Henstra (harpsichord), Bernard Foccroulle (organ)
Texts and translations included.
RICERCAR RIC369 [5 CDs: 372:19]
In the 1980s and 1990s the Belgian label Ricercar paid much attention to the oeuvre of composers from northern Germany. In recent years some of these have been reissued, which is most welcome as these recordings are still good enough to compete with more recent performances. The present set includes the complete works of Matthias Weckmann, one of the most important representatives of the north German organ school and probably the most Italian-influenced composer of the region. Some of his organ works are rather well known and that is also the case with a couple of sacred concertos. Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste is among the latter, but this compilation shows that there is much more to discover.
Weckmann was born in 1615 or 1616 in Niederdorla, near Mühlhausen. His musical talent came to the surface at an early age and his father brought him to Dresden where he entered the electoral court chapel as a choirboy. Heinrich Schütz, the Kapellmeister, took charge of his musical education. He also received lessons in organ playing and singing from members of the chapel. When his voice changed he entered the ranks of the organists. In 1633 Schütz took him to Hamburg where he became a pupil of Jacob Praetorius and Heinrich Scheidemann. In the late 1630s he was in Dresden again and from 1642-46 he served the Danish court in Copenhagen. After his return to Dresden he became friendly with Christoph Bernhard - one of Schütz's best pupils - and the internationally renowned keyboard player Johann Jacob Froberger.
In 1655 Weckmann was appointed organist of the Jacobikirche in Hamburg. Soon he became a leading figure in the musical life in the city, where in 1660 he founded a Collegium Musicum, which performed the newest music from Germany, Austria and Italy. In 1663 Hamburg was hit by the plague, which killed his colleagues Scheidemann and Selle. On the proposal of Weckmann, Selle was succeeded by Christoph Bernhard as Kantor of the churches in Hamburg. When Weckmann died Bernhard was in charge of the music during the funeral service.
Weckmann's leading role in Hamburg's music life is clearly illustrated by the nine songs (CD 4) which are all dedicated to a specific personality from the city's public life and written for special occasions. These personalities are impossible to identify as there are few names and most of them are probably sunk into oblivion anyway. Many of these songs have quite a number of stanzas; for this recording the performers have made a choice. Greta De Reyghere has found exactly the right approach to these songs: the text is always clearly understandable and she rightly shows some restraint in the addition of ornamentation.
It seems likely that the ten sonatas were written for performances by the Collegium Musicum. Here Weckmann found the freedom to experiment with various scorings, compositional techniques and harmony. Two sonatas are in three parts, the remaining in four. These sonatas are hardly known but deserve to be, as they show Weckmann as a composer who fully embraced the Italian style and was not afraid to leave the well-trodden paths. The Sonata No. 3 is the most extraordinary of the set as far as harmony is concerned. It includes some striking dissonants and it is telling that in surviving manuscripts Weckmann drew attention to unusual dissonances, probably to emphasize that these were no errors. They are scored for cornett, violin, sackbut or viola da gamba, bassoon or bombardo and bc. Here the first options are chosen. These sonatas are mixtures of the canzona - rooted in traditional counterpoint - and the sonata with its declamatory passages for solo instruments. La Fenice delivers colourful performances in which the contrasts within single sonatas - reflecting the stylus phantasticus, a hallmark of the modern concertante style - come off to optimum effect.
The number of surviving works by Weckmann is rather small, but of high quality. In his vocal works he stands out as a composer with a strong sense of drama. Through his musical education with Schütz he was well aware of the Italian concertato style, but he also possessed a large number of autographs of the newest Italian music, for example secular cantatas and excerpts from operas by Carissimi and Cesti. In his work he looks for possibilities to create a dialogue. In Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste – a piece on texts from the Lamentations of Jeremiah, written in response to the plague in Hamburg in 1663 – the soprano acts as witness to the fall of the city and the bass sings the words of the prophet. In the autograph Weckmann has indicated how it should be performed: "In this piece the discant must not be placed right next to the bass but a little away from him", which underlines the importance of the dialogue character of this work. That is observed here: the soprano is on the left and the bass on the right; in the opening stanzas the soprano is also a little in the background which is all the more notable when the strings enter the proceedings.
Another dialogue is Gegrüßet seist Du, Holdselige; the protagonists are the angel Gabriel (tenor) and Mary (soprano). Both singers have their own accompanying instruments: the soprano has two recorders, the tenor two violins. They also sing in different keys. In the concluding ‘Alleluja’ the instruments merge and the key modulates from A minor (Mary) to F major (the angel).
Weine nicht, on a text after verses from Revelation, ch 5: "Weep not, behold, the Lion of the tribe of Juda hath prevailed". This concerto contains instrumental sections which reflect Weckmann's preference for a theatrical style. This is expressed through harmonic boldness and strong chromaticism. In this work we also find a real battaglia, reflecting the battle of the Lion (Jesus) with Evil. In the vocal episode which follows the voices take up the fanfare motifs of the battaglia. The concluding 'Amen' is a ciacona on the bass of Monteverdi’s madrigal Zefiro torna, which was also used by Schütz in his concerto Es steh Gott auf from the Symphoniae Sacrae of 1647.
Obviously it is impossible to go into detail about every piece. However, I should specifically mention Es erhub sich ein Streit, a concerto for St Michael. It is the only piece in which Weckmann requires a choir - a so-called cappella - very much in the style of his teacher Schütz. The instrumental scoring includes three sackbuts. The two solo pieces for bass - Kommet her zu mir alle and Rex virtutum - are demonstrations of Weckmann's mastery of the Italian declamatory style.
The soloists in these concertos were top of the bill in the early music scene in the 1980s and 1990s. This explains why these performances can easily hold their ground, despite more recent recordings being available. There is also a strong sense of unity within the ensemble and the soloists all pay maximum attention to the text. They pull their weight to the Affekte and that results in highly compelling performances.
In comparison to his organ works Weckmann's harpsichord pieces have remained a little in the shadow. There are not that many recordings of this part of his oeuvre. I have already referred to the contacts between Weckmann and Froberger. Therefore it made much sense when Gustav Leonhardt recorded a programme in which pieces of the two masters were juxtaposed (Sony, 1997). Research has shown that the two probably met in the months around the turn of the year of 1649/50. It is quite possible that Weckmann's suites show the influence of Froberger: several of them have the gigue in second place, something we also find in several of Froberger's suites. It is known that Weckmann was acquainted with French lute music of the early 17th century; Froberger's music was not his first encounter with the French style. The toccata was a popular form in the north German organ school and Froberger delivered the connection to Italy and his teacher Frescobaldi. Some toccatas are in the stylus fantasticus, others have a more formal division into different sections. The canzona is a form which is dominated by counterpoint and is rooted in the stile antico of the 16th century. In addition Weckmann's oeuvre includes several sets of variations on then popular songs. The variation principle was highly popular at the time and shows the influence of Sweelinck and, through him, of the English virginalists. Siebe Henstra delivers outstanding and often exciting performances in which the dramatic elements are fully exposed. It is nice that he not only plays the harpsichord, but also the clavichord which was a frequently-used instrument in Germany at the time.
Some of the keyboard works can also be played on the organ. This explains that several pieces appear twice in this set of discs. As organists were mainly active in church the largest part of Weckmann's oeuvre comprises works for liturgical use. His chorale variations show the influence of his teacher Heinrich Scheidemann, especially in the extended and rich ornamentation; this is usally called the stylus luxurians. Weckmann also includes echo effects, another popular technique of north German organ masters, reflecting the influence of Scheidemann's teacher Sweelinck. Parts for double pedal were not uncommon in northern Germany, but Weckmann further extended its use. As noted in regard to the music for instrumental ensemble Weckmann liked to experiment with harmony. That comes to the fore in his organ works as well.
The two most extraordinary examples in this regard are the longest sets of chorale variations ever written in the baroque era, lasting between 20 and 30 minutes. Because of their length as well as their quite experimental character they have been considered as not being intended for liturgical use. One wonders then why they were written? Would it be plausible to compare them with Bach's Kunst der Fuge? No wonder that these pieces have been the subject of musicological research. It has resulted in the revelation of the rhetorical, symbolic and numerological aspects of these works. Es ist das Heil uns kommen her is a series of seven variations on a chorale which originally has 14 stanzas. The variations are quite different in character, for instance in regard to the treatment of the chorale melody and especially ornamentation. The sixth variation is the most brilliant and the longest, lasting over ten minutes. It is in five voices; at the end a sixth is added. The last variation is then entirely in six voices.
The hymn O lux beata Trinitas comprises three stanzas, but Weckmann composed six verses. The fourth is the longest and consists of four different variations, two in the form of bicinia and the remaining two for three voices, two of which are in canon form. Harmonically the two last verses are the most experimental. The fifth already includes some strong dissonances but their use is driven even further in the sixth. Weckmann's use of harmony is pretty extreme here; you won't find this often in 17th century music.
This aspect comes off especially well thanks to the use of an organ in meantone temperament. Bernard Foccroulle is an expert in this kind of repertoire and has recorded quite a lot of music by north German composers. The gravitas and majesty which is a feature of Weckmann's style is perfectly conveyed here. Foccroulle's interpretations are highly impressive and incisive. These are performances every organ lover will want to return to on a regular basis.
These two discs with organ works round off a production which can only be wholeheartedly welcomed. These recordings were revolutionary when they were released for the first time, when very little of Weckmann's output was known. Today he is a pretty household name, but considerable parts of his oeuvre are still hardly known. This set is the perfect way to become acquainted with and getting impressed by Weckmann's art. The performances are pretty much ideal.
The booklet should have been edited more carefully. We get two biographies of Weckmann, one in the liner-notes by Jérôme Lejeune and one as part of the original liner-notes to the organ discs by Bernard Foccroulle. In the track-list of CD 4 the tracks 1 and 3 have been confused.
Johan van Veen
CD 1 [78:52]
Weine nicht [13:26]
Zion spricht: der Herr hat mich verlassen [8:07]
Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe [7:29]
Wie liegt die Stadt so wüste [15:53]
Dialogo von Tobias und Raguel [11:34]
Kommet her zu mir alle [8:02]
Angelicus coeli chorus [7:16]
Es erhub sich ein Streit* [7:02]
CD 2 [68:46]
Gegrüsset seist du, Holdselige (Dialogus) [6:25]
Wenn der Herr die Gefangenen zu Zion [10:44]
Rex virtutum [5:27]
Der Tod ist verschlungen in den Sieg [4:07]
Greta De Reyghere, Jill Feldman* (soprano), James Bowman (alto), Ian Honeyman, Guy De Mey* (tenor), Max van Egmond (bass)
Cappella Sancti Michaelis/Erik Van Nevel*, Ricercar Consort
Rec. January & March 1992, the Abbey of Stavelot, Belgium DDD
Sonata X à 3 in G [3:34]
Sonata IX à 4 in d minor [6:08]
Sonata VI à 4 in G [3:52]
Sonata VII à 4 in D [3:55]
Sonata VIII à 3 in a minor [2:49]
Sonata I à 4 in D [3:29]
Sonata V à 4 in G (Battaglia) [4:23]
Sonata IV à 4 in a minor [4:19]
Sonata III à 4 in G [4:44]
Sonata II à 4 in D [4:50]
La Fenice/Jean Tubéry
(Jean Tubéry (cornett), François Fernandez (violin), Jean-Jacques Herbin (sackbut), Christian Beuse (bassoon), Christina Pluhar (theorbo), Jean-Marc Aymes (harpsichord, organ)
Rec. May 1995, Église Saint-Apollinaire, Bolland, Belgium DDD
CD 3 [73:13]
Suite in b minor [7:26]
Toccata in d minor [2:46]
Canzon in d minor [3:06]
Toccata in c minor [2:59]
Toccata vel praeludium in d minor* [1:57]
Suite in d minor* [5:56]
Lucidor eins hütt der schaf* [2:08]
Toccata in e minor [2:48]
Suite in e minor [5:04]
Canzona in G [2:48]
Suite in c minor [7:13]
Canzon in C* [2:28]
Suite in a minor* [6:09]
Die Lieblichen Blicke* [6:05]
Toccata in C [2:55]
Canzon in C [1:52]
Canzon in a minor [4:44]
Toccata in a minor [4:45]
Siebe Henstra (harpsichord, clavichord*)
rec. March 1988, Chapelle de Charneux-Monty, Belgium DDD
CD 4 [78:07]
Der reinweissen Hertzogin hochklare Liebesfarbe [2:33]
Ehrenlied an Herrn Martenitz [1:46]
Der reinweissen Hertzogin hochklare Seelenfarbe [1:58]
Der schöne Hamburgerin Loebligkeit [1:51]
Loblied auf Herrn Schuppen [1:19]
Schöne Hamburgerin Abgesang [1:43]
Scherzlied an die süsse Annabelle [2:47]
Freudenlied auf die Guldene Hochzeit [1:42]
(Greta De Reyghere (sopraan), Philippe Pierlot (viola da gamba), Vincent Dumestre (theorbo), Siebe Henstra (harpsichord))
rec. May 1995, Église Saint-Apollinaire, Bolland, Belgium DDD
Gott sei gelobet und gebenedeiet [6:35]
Canzona in C [2:49]
Praeambulum 1. toni a 5 in d [3:37]
Ach wir armen Sünder [7:27]
Fuga ex D ped. 1. toni 05:04]
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (II) [3:36]
Canzona in G [3:08]
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her** [28:41]
CD 5 [73:21]
O lux beata Trinitas** [22:34]
Canzona in C** 02:13]
Fantasia ex D** [4:37]
Canzona in c minor** [5:12]
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (I)** [11:13]
Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein* [6:55]
Canzona in d minor* [3:22]
Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott* [10:04]
Magnificat II. toni* [7:08]
Bernard Foccroulle (organ)
Rec. May 2012, St Mauritius Church, Hollern & St Cosmae & Damian Church, Stade*, Germany; September 2013 at the St Katharina Church, Hamburg**, Germany DDD
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