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Georg ÖSTERREICH (1664-1735)
Psalms and Cantatas
Sie ist fest gegründet [13:07]
Herr Jesu Christ, wahr' Mensch und Gott [14:09]
Dixit Dominus Domino meo [18:33]
Der Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand [7:36]
Und Jesus ging aus von dannen [13:35]
Weser-Renaissance Bremen/Manfred Cordes
rec. 4 May 2014, chapel of Gottorf Castle, Germany. DDD
CPO 777 944-2 [67:04]

In 2012 the German label CPO started a new series of recordings: Music for Gottorf Castle. From the mid-16th century to the early 18th Gottorf was the seat of the Dukes of Holstein-Gottorf. The castle had its own chapel which was directed by various composers who were highly rated in their day. In the early decades of the 17th century the English composer William Brade played a key role in the expansion of the chapel, and especially its string section. The music played there had a considerable influence on the development of music for instrumental ensemble in northern Germany. One of the musicians at the court during the Thirty Years War was Franz Tunder, best known as a representative of the north German organ school. In 1665 Augustin Pfleger became Kapellmeister; to him the first disc in this series was devoted. He was succeeded in 1673 by Johann Theile. The Dukes of Holstein-Gottorf were in permanent conflict with Denmark: in 1675 Gottorf was occupied by Danish troops and the Duke fled to Hamburg. Theile followed him and actively participated in the Hamburg Opera. When his employer returned to Gottorf he didn't follow him; some time later he took up the position of Kapellmeister at Wolfenbüttel. In 1780 Johann Philipp Förtsch was appointed Kapellmeister but his activities came to an end when the Duke had to flee again. Förtsch - who had studied medicine before turning to music - decided to settle as a doctor in Husum. When the Duke once again returned to Gottorf Georg Österreich was appointed Kapellmeister, at the age of just 25. It was his task to restore the chapel to its former glory. The fact that he was appointed at such a young age attests to his reputation. He had been recommended to the Duke by Förtsch and Theile.

Österreich was born in Magdeburg where he received his first musical education. At the age of 14 he entered the Thomasschule in Leipzig which was then under the direction of Johann Schelle. Two years later he went to Hamburg where he studied at the Johanneum and sang first as an alto and then as a tenor. In the latter capacity he worked at the court of Wolfenbüttel from 1686 to 1689 and it is there that he came under the guidance of Theile. In 1689 he started his activities as Kapellmeister in Gottorf.

In order to restore the rich musical practice at the Palace he collected music to be performed by the chapel. In his liner-notes for this disc Konrad Küster writes: "Österreich bequeathed to posterity a music library without which we would hardly know anything at all about the so-called pre-Bach period. (...) The library is a reflection of the fact that during the late seventeenth century Gottorf Castle formed one of the great music centers in contemporary Central European music." Österreich's activities as a collector of music have largely overshadowed his own oeuvre from which the present disc offers a small selection. His extant output comprises at least 47 pieces, 28 sacred and 19 secular. In addition there are some works whose authenticity has not as yet been established.

Österreich turns out to be an interesting and important link between the sacred concerto of the 17th century and the cantata of the next century. In some compositions a strong influence of the Italian style of the early 17th century is clearly noticeable. That can be explained by his experiences in Wolfenbüttel. Theile himself was under Italian influence but even more so was his predecessor, Johann Rosenmüller who had worked for many years in Venice. The tradition the latter had established in Wolfenbüttel comes especially to the fore in Dixit Dominus, in which Österreich makes use of the stile concitato which we know from Monteverdi. In the fifth verse - a solo for the bass - the word "confregit" (shattered) is singled out by endless coloratura. The next verse ("He shall judge among the nations") opens with a passage in which the basso continuo plays a sequence of staccato chords, and the word "conquassabit" (scatter [heads]) is sung staccato by the tutti. The last verse then is completely different, reflecting the peace and quiet of the text: "He will drink from the brook". Another psalm setting is Sie ist fest gegründet (Psalm 87) in which we find a shift in metre midway. The piece ends in a dance rhythm on the words: "And all the singers as in a round will sing in you, one around the other".

The chorale plays an important part in compositions in Lutheran Germany. Herr Jesu Christ, wahr Mensch und Gott is an example. It was written for the funeral of Duchess Friederike Amalia at the Schleswig Cathedral in 1704. If you know the melody Johann Sebastian Bach used in his cantata 127 you won't recognize the melody here. Texts of hymns could be sung to different melodies across Germany, and here the texture of the hymn is also different: not eight stanzas of six verses each, but twelve stanzas of four verses each. In some verses Österreich deviates completely from the hymn melody and uses original material instead. He also breaks up the division into stanzas: he links the 10th stanza with the first line of the 11th, which is followed by a pause. He then continues with the remaining three lines of the 11th stanza. In stanzas 8 and 9 Jesus is quoted: "Truly, truly, I say to you"; this is set as a solo for bass.

This is a dramatic element we also meet in the last piece of the programme: Und Jesus ging aus von dannen, a setting of an episode described in the gospel of Matthew. The focus is formed by the story of the Canaanite woman, whose faith in the battle for her daughter's life is so strong that she is even able to prevail against Jesus' refusals. Here Österreich links up with a tradition established in Gottorf by his predecessor Förtsch who often chose dramatic episodes from the gospels for his compositions. That is not surprising as Förtsch played a major role in the Hamburg Opera. Österreich's piece opens with the tenor - at the time certainly sung by Österreich himself - acting as the Evangelist. The woman (soprano) expresses her feelings in the form of arias in strophic form, and Jesus (bass) answers in the same manner. The roles of the disciples saying to Jesus "Do send her away from you" are allocated to two sopranos and an alto who partly imitate each other. The piece ends with a tutti section.

The most modern piece is certainly Der Gerechten Seelen which is taken from a larger funerary piece for the 'Lord Chamberlain' Count Otto Rantzau who died in Antwerp in 1694. The text was written by Förtsch; Österreich isolated a fragment, added an instrumental sinfonia and an episode for tenor solo. Interestingly the latter has the form of an accompanied recitative. This is certainly one of the first accompanied recitatives in sacred music from Lutheran Germany.

This disc gives a good idea of Georg Österreich's oeuvre. I am very impressed by its quality and hope that more of his output will be recorded in the future. Manfred Cordes and Weser-Renaissance are specialists in this kind of repertoire and one can leave it to them to explore fully the features of every single piece. Cordes has brought together a fine quintet of singers who not only make a perfect ensemble but also deliver fine performances individually. I especially mention here Harry van der Kamp who impressively deals with the daredevil coloratura in Dixit Dominus. In German music of the 17th century the text always comes first. In these performances it is always clearly understandable thanks to the excellent diction and articulation of the singers. The instruments play an important role too, and do more than just support the voices. The instrumentalists are also very much aware of the meaning of the text and deliver a true rhetorical account of their parts.

Music and performance give every reason to label this disc as a Recording of the Month.
Johan van Veen



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