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Regina coeli – A cappella Music from the Basilica Alte Kapelle in Regensburg
Francesco SORIANO (1549-1621)
Missa Nos autem gloriari oportet [19:10]
Gregor AICHINGER (1564-1628)
Assumpta est Maria [0:57]
Alleluia Assumpta est Maria [2:00]
Beata viscera [1:04]
Confirma hoc Deus [1:12]
Factus est repente [1:16]
Ave Regina coelorum [1:51]
Regina coeli [1:51]
Missa de Beata Virgine [15:44]
Michael HALLER (1840-1915)
Oculi omnium, op. 16,1 [1:45]
Sacerdotes Domini, op. 16,2 [1:28]
O sacrum convivium, op. 16,13 [1:53]
Ego sum panis vivus, op. 16,14 [1:21]
Coenantibus, op. 16,16 [3:38]
Surrexit pastor bonus, op. 2,3 [2:18]
Missa undecima in honorem Santi Henrici Imperatoris Confessoris, op. 24: Credo [5:09]
Giovanni Pierluigi DA PALESTRINA (1525-1594)
Missa sine nomine: Credo [5:50]
Regensburger Vokalsolisten, Regensburger Motettenchor, Men's choir of former Regensburger Domspatzen/Josef Kohlhäufl
rec. 1998/2000, Dreifaltigkeitsbergkirche, Regensburg, Germany
Texts and translations included
TYXART TXA15058 [68:55]

As the subtitle suggests the present disc is mainly intended to document musical practice at the Alte Kapelle in Regensburg, an institution which is hardly known outside Germany. Its history goes back to the Middle Ages and is connected to Regensburg Cathedral and its boys’ choir, today known as the Regensburger Domspatzen. One of the ensembles participating in the recording is a men’s choir of former members of the latter. However, this disc is more than just a document of the Alte Kapelle's activities. Its programme includes music by three composers who are little known.

The exception is Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina who turns up at the very end of the programme. However, in fact, he is the thread of this recording, as all the composers represented were in one way or the other influenced by him. Palestrina was the main representative of post-Tridentine church music. The Council of Trent had laid down some of the principles of good liturgical music, partly as a reaction to criticism from the figureheads of the Reformation. Sacred music should be devoid of secular elements, such as chansons and madrigals being used as cantus firmus for masses. Composers should also care about the intelligibility of the text and therefore should avoid polyphony being too complicated; this resulted in composers turning more often to homophony. A third element was the avoidance of so-called tropes: the extension of the standard liturgical texts with new textual elements.

The earliest composer in the programme who adhered to these principles was Gregor Aichinger who was of German birth and was originally a Protestant. He was one of the first German composers who went to Venice to study with Giovanni Gabrieli. It is likely that this resulted in his conversion to the Catholic Church. In 1598 he was ordained as a priest. After his return to Germany he started work in Augsburg as a canon and cathedral choir vicar at St. Gertrud. His pretty large oeuvre shows a variety of styles. Some of his compositions are rather old-fashioned, but later in his career he published even pieces with a basso continuo part. The polychoral style he had become acquainted with in Venice also left its mark in his output. Some motets recorded here are taken from a collection of 1598, including pieces for three voices, a scoring which was uncommon at the time. Other pieces are from a collection of almost ten years later and are more modern in style. Plainchant melodies often take a prominent place in his compositions. It is interesting that the Gloria from the Missa de Beata Virgine includes tropes, despite the Tridentine orders. However, the inclusion of tropes was in line with the rites of the Augsburg diocese. It shows that the impact of the liturgical reforms of the Council of Trent was limited.

Francesco Soriano (or Suriano) worked for most of his life in Rome, where he first sang as a choirboy and was later maestro in several churches, such as S Giovanni in Laterano and lastly in the Cappella Giulia. Stylistically he remained close to Palestrina; he reworked the latter’s Missa Papae Marcelli for eight voices in two choirs. Influences of the fashions of his own time, such as the monodic style and the use of basso continuo, are absent from his oeuvre. He often made use of homophony in the interest of the intelligibility of the text. The Missa Nos autem gloriari is a specimen of a piece in which the composer cares for a maximum of clarity. The title refers to an antiphon for Holy Thursday.

The pieces by Aichinger and Soriano receive fine performances from the Regensburger Vokalsolisten, which comprises 25 voices. That is probably a bit larger than was common around 1600. However, because of the clarity of the voices and agility of the ensemble as a whole I didn't experience the ensemble’s size as a problem. The attention given to the text is notable, as well as the dynamic differentiation. These performances are not as straightforward as so many others in this kind of repertoire are.

With Michael Haller we are in the late 19th century. However, his sacred works recorded here and the pieces by Aichinger and Soriano are not worlds apart. Haller was one of the great representatives in Germany of the Cecilian movement, which aimed for a reform of Catholic church music. According to Siegfried Gmeinwieser in New Grove, “the Cecilians sought to restore traditional religious feeling and the authority of the church. They regarded 'true, genuine church music' as being subservient to the liturgy, and intelligibility of words and music as more important than artistic individuality”. For the Cecilians, the great model of church music was Palestrina, and Haller even earned the nickname of the ‘Palestrina of the 19th century’. Regensburg was one of the centres of Cecilianism and Haller became musical director of the Alte Kapelle there in 1867. The largest part of his printed works was written during his period as choirmaster. His oeuvre was frequently performed in Catholic churches from his own time until well into the second half of the 20th century. His music is clearly different from what was the dominant style of this time - late Romanticism - and the influence of Palestrina is clearly noticeable. Even so, there are some romantic traits in his oeuvre, which can be noticed in his treatment of dynamics and the differentiation of tempi within one piece. If one were to listen to his motets without knowing who wrote them, one would never confuse them with music by the ‘real’ Palestrina. However, that is also due to the performance: the way the motets by Haller are sung here is probably not very different from the way Palestrina’s music was performed in Haller’s time. The Regensburger Motettenchor is much more a real choir, rather than a vocal ensemble. The booklet doesn’t give details about its size, but I assume it is considerably larger than the ensemble. However, Josef Kohlhäufl has managed to avoid the sound becoming muddy and to make sure that the text is clearly intelligible.

This disc is more than a documentation of the Alte Kapelle's activities. It is also an interesting display of Palestrina's influence in his own time and shortly after his death as well as in the late 19th century. What adds to its value is the choice of music: Soriano and Aichinger are not household names and definitely deserve more attention. The level of the performances further contributes to this disc’s being a worthwhile addition to the catalogue.

Johan van Veen



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