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Johann ROSENMÜLLER (c.1617-1684)
Marienvesper (Vespro della Beata Vergine)
Veronika Winter, Maria Skiba (soprano), Henning Voss, Alex Potter (alto), Georg Drake, Jakob Hagenah (tenor), Paul Lüschen, Matthias Hagenah (bass)
Knabenchor Hannover, Schola, Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble, Barockorchester L'Arco/Jörg Breiding
rec. July 2015, Stephansstift, Hanover, Germany DDD
RONDEAU ROP701920 [60:18 + 54:55]

The declamatory and theatrical style which emerged in Italy in the early decades of the 17th century was enthusiastically embraced by many composers on the other side of the Alps. One of its most eloquent advocates was Johann Rosenmüller who was one of Germany's most promising composers in the mid-17th century. His talent was acknowledged by none other than Heinrich Schütz, musicus poeticus and the source of inspiration for generations of German composers. It is telling that in 1653 the city of Leipzig assured him that he was going to be the successor of the ailing Thomaskantor, Tobias Michael. It resulted in his refusing to apply for the position of Kreuzkantor in Dresden. However, his fast rise to fame came to an abrupt halt when he was accused of a paedosexual offence. Before the investigation started he fled to Hamburg and then travelled to Italy where he settled in Venice.

For Rosenmüller that was the place to be. In 1645/46 he had already been in Italy and this had a decisive influence on his development as a composer. In 1648 and 1652/53 he published two collections with sacred concertos, under the title of Kern-Sprüche and these already show a strong Italian influence. From 1658 onwards he worked in San Marco as a player of the sackbut and for two periods he was active as maestro di coro at the Ospedale della Pietà. He also created a large oeuvre of sacred music but it is not clear whether his compositions were performed at the San Marco or other churches in Venice. As his music was much sought-after in Germany it seems more likely that he composed his sacred oeuvre for courts and chapels in his native country.

The present production bears the title of Marienvesper, in Italian Vespro della Beata Maria Vergine. However, Rosenmüller did not compose any Vespers; although I haven't checked it piece by piece this recording seems to include the music from a collection edited by the German musicologist Peter Wollny. That edition was also the basis of the performances of Rosenmüller's Vespers music by the ensemble Gli Angeli Genève at the 2016 Early Music Festival Utrecht. Despite being written separately they show a strong stylistic coherence which makes them suitable to be performed as part of a kind of reconstruction of a Vespers liturgy.

This production “aimed at restructuring an entirely Venetian vesper music, as was quite common in Catholic Venice”, Arno Paduch writes in the booklet. This was the reason that the Italian title 'Vespro della Beata Maria Vergine' was chosen. However, this raises some questions. First of all, as one can see in the track-list, every Psalm and the Magnificat is preceded and followed by an antiphon, sung in plainchant. It was common practice to perform a sacred concerto, a motet or an instrumental piece instead of the repeat of the antiphon. However, this has not been practised here. The question is, then, what is the function of the two sonatas included here? There is no place in a Vespers for independent instrumental music. Therefore the inclusion of these two sonatas is a little inconsistent.

There is more. This is an attempt to reconstruct a Venetian vesper music, as we read in the liner-notes. That explains that the Latin texts are pronounced as was common practice in Italy. However, Arno Paduch writes: “Since at least some of these Latin compositions by Rosenmüller were intended for a German audience, he made use of stylistic devices that were rather atypical for Venetian musical practices of the time. He implemented, for example, cornets and trombones in many works, in other words instruments that were not otherwise used in Venetian compositions of this time, but still enjoyed great enthusiasm in Germany at the end of the seventeenth century.” I am not so sure whether he is right here. It was not earlier than 1698 that the chapel of San Marco in Venice dismissed its last cornett player. From that one could conclude that cornetts and sackbuts were still used in sacred music at the time Rosenmüller composed his Vesper music. But if Paduch is right then one wonders why these pieces which include written-out parts for such instruments, are used in a reconstruction of a Venetian Vespers service. And if this music was in fact written for use in Germany one may wonder whether they were used for Vespers as earlier in his notes Paduch states that at least in the Protestant part of Germany “such a Vesper was probably hardly ever heard, and if so, at most in the form of isolated individual works, and frequently with reworked texts”. Again, considering the various statements in the liner-notes there is reason to question the consistency of the very concept of this production.

Leaving these issues aside we can only welcome this recording as the music is of excellent quality and impressively shows why Rosenmüller was considered one of the brightest of his generation. In every piece he manages to connect text and music in a meaningful way. Dixit Dominus is the most dramatic of the Vesper psalms. Rosenmüller makes use of the stile concitato - which we know from, for instance, Monteverdi's Combattimento di Tancredi e Clorinda - to depict a word like "inimicos" (enemies) and the dramatic verses towards the end which refer to the Lord's wrath. He turns to this compositional device again in Laudate pueri Dominum. Here he also makes use of a descending chromatic figure on the word "pauperem" (the poor). Dissonants are used for the word "doloris" ([the bread of] sorrows). In both Laetatus sum and Lauda Jerusalem the opening words are repeated several times throughout the psalm, as a kind of motto. The latter is dominated by abundant praise of God and this explains why Rosenmüller included an obbligato part for trumpet. This piece ends with an extended setting of the Amen: first solo voices and trumpet are involved in a dialogue where Rosenmüller turns to the echo technique which was so popular in the early 17th century, largely over a pedal point. Then the Amen is sung by the tutti. In the Magnificat the verses which open with "deposuit potentes" are dominated by ascending and descending figures, expressing the humiliation of the mighty and the elevation of the humble and meek.

However much I welcome this production because of the quality of the music, I can't avoid the conclusion that the performances don't quite live up to the expectations. That is all the more regrettable as the performers are all first class, and that goes for soloists, choir and instrumental ensembles alike. There are certainly many enjoyable moments when the quality of Rosenmüller's music is fully displayed. However, the dramatic and often outright theatrical features are somewhat underexposed. That is partly due to the tempi, which are sometimes too moderate. The treatment of dynamics is also too restrained; especially the lower solo voices - tenors and basses - are too flat, for instance in Dixit Dominus. Although I admire the Knabenchor Hannover, the mixture of adult solo voices and the choir is less than ideal. After all, this is no music for soloists and choir but for a vocal and instrumental ensemble with episodes for solo voices. I also tend to think that the choir is too large. I doubt whether more than 16 or 20 voices are needed; here the choir comprises over 60 voices. The cornetts and sackbuts are outstanding but the strings are rather bland.

On balance this is a production which deserves the attention of the lover of this kind of repertoire but the performances don't do Rosenmüller's oeuvre full justice. There is more in it than is revealed here.

Johan van Veen

Track listing
[Ingressus] Deus in adiutorium meum intende [01:00]
[antiphona I] Iam hiems transiit [00:25]
Dixit Dominus [21:00]
[antiphona I] Iam hiems transiit [00:29]
[antiphona II] Beata mater [00:25]
Laudate pueri Dominum [15:19]
[antiphona II] Beata mater [00:29]
Sonata XII à 5 [04:30]
[antiphona III] Gabriel Angelus [00:35]
Laetatus sum [15:23]
[antiphona III] Gabriel Angelus [00:41]
[antiphona IV] Beata es Maria [00:29]
Nisi Dominus [10:00]
[antiphona IV] Beata es Maria [00:31]
Sonata IX à 5 [05:22]
[antiphona V] Dum esset rex [00:22]
Lauda Jerusalem [16:16]
[antiphona V] Dum esset rex [00:26]
[Hymnus] Ave maris stella [02:56]
[antiphona VI] Laeva eius [00:21]
Magnificat [18:10]



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