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Matthias WECKMANN (1616-1674)
Complete Organ Music
Matteo Venturini (organ)
rec. 2018/19, Church of Our Lady of Fatima, Pinerolo, Italy
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 95229 [3 CDs: 184:31]

Matthias Weckmann has been both fortunate and unfortunate in his friendships. He was fortunate while alive - for what musician of talent could fail to benefit from the genuine friendship of such figures as Heinrich Schütz and Johann Jakob Froberger? – but unfortunate posthumously, in that he was long remembered primarily as the favourite pupil and subsequent friend of Schütz and as the man who became Froberger’s friend, around the end of 1649 or the beginning of 1650 when Froberger was in Dresden, the two having  competed – according to Johann Mattheson – in a harpsichord contest arranged by the Elector. They remained lasting friends and regular correspondents thereafter.

After his musical talents had been recognized in his childhood years, Weckmann’s serious musical education began (c.1628) as a treble in the court chapel of Dresden, under Schütz’ supervision. At the same time, he studied singing with Caspar Kittel (1603-1639), best known as a theorbist and composer, and organ with Johann Klemm (c.1595-post.1651), who was the Dresden court organist from 1625. Schütz had, of course, spent four years studying with Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice; Kittel also spent some years in Italy, probably from 1624-1629, (his Arien und Cantaten of 1638 seems to have been the first published use of the Italian term cantata in ‘Germany’). Thus at least two of the young Weckmann’s teachers would unconsciously, and more probably, consciously, have served as channels for the Italian influence so evident in the compositions of the mature Weckmann. I suggest that both Schütz and Kittel would have been conscious of the wisdom of stressing the interest and importance of Italian musical ways to their young pupil, since the musical environment of Dresden in those years was very well-disposed towards Italian music and musicians, not least because of the presence in the city of Crown Prince Johann Georg (1613-1680) the future Elector of Saxony (1656-1680) who was a great lover of Italian art and music. His importance in this regard is discussed in two scholarly publications in English by Mary E. Frandsen, ‘Allies in the Cause of Italian Music: Schütz, Prince Johann Georg II and Musical Politics in Dresden’, Journal of the Royal Musical Association, 125(1), 2000, pp. 1-40 and Crossing Confessional Boundaries. The Patronage of Italian Sacred Music in 17th Century Dresden. (2006). Also relevant (and very interesting) is Curtis Lasell’s paper, ‘Italian Cantatas in Lüneborg and Matthias Weckmann’s Musical Nachlaß, Proceedings of the Weckmann Symposium, Göteborg, 30 August – 3 September 1991, ed. Sverket Julander, Gothenburg, 1995.

After his voice broke, Weckmann served as an organist at the Dresden court. Later, he spent four years at the royal chapel in Denmark. In 1655 he became organist of the Jacobkirche in Hamburg, where he would have played (as Francesco Tasini reminds us in his booklet essay accompanying these CDs) “the famous instrument built in 1576-77 by Dirk Hoyer” (there are brief details of this organ in Peter Williams’ New History of the Organ, 1980). All through his career Weckmann, who must surely have been an ‘easy’ and sociable man, seems to have had a gift for making musical friends. To take just one example, the composer and singer Christoph Bernhard (1628-1692) seems to have chosen to leave Dresden in 1663 primarily to join Weckmann who was then in Hamburg. It also seems characteristic of Weckmann’s sociability that he should, in 1660, have established (in collaboration with Christoph Bernhard) in Hamburg a collegium musicum (a society of amateur and professional musicians some 50 strong) which met weekly in a church refectory to play new music from across Europe, repertoire which, according to Curtis Lasell (see above), included “modern original Italian dramatic and operatic music”.

Although Weckman wrote both instrumental sonatas and sacred vocal music of genuine quality, it is probably fair to say that his greatest achievements lay in his compositions for keyboards, some of which are suitable for performance on the harpsichord, though many were clearly intended for the organ.

Weckmann’s music, like that of any composer for the organ, needs to be heard on a suitable instrument if it is to be appreciated fully. Both Matteo Venturini – and Weckmann – are well served by the modern organ in the Chiesa di Madonna di Fatima in Pinerolo, a town within the boundaries of the Metropolitan City of Turin. The instrument was constructed between 2006 and 2011 in the workshop of Dell’Orto and Lanzini in Arona, north east of Turin on the shores of Lake Maggiore, under the artistic supervision of the organist and organ scholar Silvio Sorrentino. It was modelled on the work of Arp Schnitger (1648-1719), so as to have, as far as possible, the qualities of North German organs of the baroque period. One of the most admired of Schnitger’s surviving organs is in Weckmann’s Jacobkirche in Hamburg. In 1693 Schnitger undertook a rebuild and expansion of the organ which Weckmann had played. I haven’t been to Hamburg, but comparing photographs of the ‘Schnitger’ organ in the Jacobkirche and the new instrument in Pinerolo, the two organ cases look very similar and the Italian makers may have had the Jacobkirche organ in mind, in this and other respects. I well remember hearing, and being very impressed by, another organ by Dell’Orto and Lanzini at a recital in the Church of Santa Maria di Gesso in Bologna a few years ago - although I can remember who made the organ, I can’t now remember who the recitalist was. On seeing that the organ used in these recordings was by the same makers, I anticipated listening to them with some positive expectations and I wasn’t disappointed. The CD booklet provides details of the instrument’s specifications, prefaced by a short description: “The instrument is … designed according to the typical North German Werk concept: Hauptwerk, Rückpositiv, Pedal towers on either side and a Brustpositiv over the keyboards. It features three keyboards (compass C to f3, 54 notes), a pedalboard (compass C to f1, 30 notes), suspended tracker action, mechanical stop action, and 34 Speaking stops”. The Pinerolo instrument has both the power and subtlety, as well as the range of colours, necessary to allow Marco Venturini to do justice to Weckmann’s remarkably inventive music.

The undoubted masterpieces here are two lengthy sets of variations, one on the Latin hymn O Lux beata Trinitas, (a hymn whose text is attributed to St. Ambrose, a text which Luther translated as Der du bist drei in Einigkeit), the other on the Lutheran hymn Es ist das Heil uns kommen her, the words of which were written by Paul Speratus (1482-1521); it was published in the very first Lutheran hymnal – the Etlich Cristlich lieder / Lobgesang und Psalm of 1524 (often referred to simply as the Achtliederbuch), a collaboration between Luther and Speratus; the original melody may perhaps be familiar from Bach’s Cantata BWV 9.

The opening verse of O lux beata trinitas opens with a relatively simple grandeur, which sounds especially handsome on the Pinerolo organ, as Weckmann reminds the hearer of the original melody. The second verse begins with a contrasting delicacy - to which, again, both performer and instrument do full justice - before incorporating some delightfully sustained melodic writing. The third verse begins to add a greater complexity, before the exuberantly inventive virtuosic writing (using many phrasal repetitions) in the fourth and fifth verses. The last canonic variation in the fourth verse is particularly striking and there are some very beautiful passages in the fifth. The original hymn tune is again more obviously recognizable in the sixth and last verse, giving the listener the sense of having completed a circular journey to return ‘home’. All in all, this is a remarkable work, with a true sense of the spiritual and a great range of moods and emotions, from the majestic to the contemplative, the sublime to the intimate.

Fully fit to stand alongside Weckmann’s O lux beata trinitas – and perhaps even ‘ahead’ of it – is his set of chorale variations on Es ist das Heil uns kommen her. This wonderful work is made up of seven verses: the first opens with an 11-bar introduction, before the melody of Luther’s chorale sings out via the pedals and makes much use of a five-note descending figure – the same motif which reappears in every one of the following verses. The second verse is a two-part canon, while in the third verse we hear the chorale tune played on the pedals, with the bass played by the organist’s left hand. The fourth verse is another canon; the chorale being heard in the bass, with a canon above it. In the fifth verse the two hands of the player sustain a further canon. The lengthy - almost fifteen minutes in this version - sixth verse is a chorale fantasia, throughout which there is a powerful expression of the Christian’s praise of God. The fantasia builds up through writing in five, six, and seven parts, before culminating in a final chord in which an eighth part is added, a chord which seems to affirm and celebrate the Christian confidence in God’s promise of salvation. The abundance of Weckmann’s ornaments in this extraordinary verse is diverse and astonishing. The seventh and last verse deploys a number of descending and ascending scales through and across some elaborate six-part writing, the organ being made to sound loudly affirmative, assured and emphatic. Matteo Venturini is fully in command of this severely demanding work, articulating its often-complex textures while giving full expression to its heartfelt affirmations of faith. Listening to the whole work is an exhilarating experience and was no less so on my fifth or sixth time of listening.

Elsewhere, there are less massive sets of chorale variations, such as those on Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein and Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott (both these hymns being by Luther) which also have their rewards to offer the attentive listener, as well as several accomplished toccatas, and an impressive set of Magnificat verses.

On all three CDs, Matteo Venturini proves himself to be an assured and perceptive guide through this enriching and deeply satisfying music. I am not in a position to make detailed comparisons between Venturini’s collection and similar ventures by Bernard Foccroulle (on Ricercar), Friedhelm Flamme (on CPO) and the earlier set by Hans Davidsson. I used to own the sets by Foccroulle and Davidsson, but no longer have them. That by Flamme I loaned to a friend just before the COVID lockdown and she hasn’t, therefore, been able to return it yet. Judging by what I can remember of these sets, and by some sampling on streaming services, this new set does not seem to be outclassed by the competition. I like the Italian spirit which Venturini brings to this decidedly Italianate North German music. I like, too, the recently installed organ on which it is played and the natural-sounding acoustic in which it is recorded (for which the sound engineer Emiliano Bandini deserves our gratitude). Although these would never be absolute reasons for buying this set, it is worth pointing out that it is considerably cheaper than the others, some of which are nowadays quite hard to find. I don’t believe that any organ lover who invests in this fine issue will be disappointed by it.

Glyn Pursglove
CD 1
Præambulum primi toni a 5 in D Minor [4:06]
Fantasia Ex D in D Minor [5:03]
Ach wir armen Sünder: Versus I. - choral in tenor [1:59]
Ach wir armen Sünder: Versus II. - à 2 Clav. è Ped [2:42]
Ach wir armen Sünder: Versus III. - à 2 Clav [2:27]
Fuga ex D pedaliter primi toni in D Minor [5:22]
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (I): Primus versus - à 4 [1:34]
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (I): Secundus versus - Auff 2 Clavir [6:40]
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (I): Tertius versus - Auff 2 Clavir à 4 [2:06]
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (I): Quartus versus - à 3 [1:34]
Toccata dall 12 tuono (V) in C Major [4:08]
Canzon dall istesso tuono (I) in C Major [2:46]
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (II): Primus versus - à 4 [1:27]
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (II): Secundus versus - Auff 2 Clavir [1:24]
Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (II): Tertius versus - à 3 voc [1:02]
Toccata (II) in E Minor [4:21]
Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein: Primus versus [2:13]
Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein: Secundus versus - Auff zwey Clavier [3:15]
Nun freut euch, lieben Christen gmein: Tertius versus [2:39]
Toccata (III) in E Minor [3:49]
CD 2
Toccata in D Minor [3:56]
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her: Primus versus à 5 Voc. Im vollen Werck [4:05]
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her: Secundus versus - Manualiter,
     canon in hyperdiapente post minimam [2:56]
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her: Tertius verus - Vff 2 Clavir [4:09]
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her: Quartus versus - à 3.
     Pedaliter, canon in sub diapason post semiminimam [2:28]
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her: Quintus versus - à 3.
     Pedaliter, canon in disdiapente post semiminimam [3:01]
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her: Sextus versus - Vff 2 Clavier [14:51]
Es ist das Heil uns kommen her: Septimus et ultimus versus –
     Im vollen Werck, Coral im Tenor, manualiter et pedaliter [4:39]
Toccata (IV) in A Minor [5:45]
Canzon (III) in D Minor [3:37]
Magnificat II. Toni: Primus versus - à 5 [1:35]
Magnificat II. Toni: Secundus versus - à 4, Auff 2 Clavir [2:53]
Magnificat II. Toni: Tertius versus - à 5 [2:07]
Magnificat II. Toni: Quartus versus - à 6 [1:20]
Canzon (II) in C Minor [6:07]
CD 3
Præludium - à 5 Vocum
Gott sei gelobet und gebenedeiet: Primus versus - à 4
Gott sei gelobet und gebenedeiet: Secundus versus - Auff 2 Clavir
Canzon (IV) in C Major
Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott: 1. Versus
Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott: 2. versus - Auff 2 Clavir
Komm, heiliger Geist, Herre Gott: 3. versus - à 3
Canzon (V) in G Major
Toccata vel præludium (I) 1mi toni in D Minor
O lux beata trinitas: Primus versus - à 5, Im vollen Werck
O lux beata trinitas: Secundus versus - à 4. Choral in Cantu, manualiter vel si placet pedaliter
O lux beata trinitas: Tertius versus - à 4 Voc
O lux beata trinitas: Quartus versus - 1. Variatio, manualiter - 2. Variatio - 3. Variatio a 3 Voc., canon in hypodiapason post em
O lux beata trinitas: Quintus versus - Auff 2 Clavier
O lux beata trinitas: Sextus versus - à 5 Im vollen Werck

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