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Andreas HAMMERSCHMIDT (1611-1675)
Ach Jesus Stirbt
Details after review
Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier
with the participation of Clematis
rec. Gedinne, Église Notre-Dame, September 2019
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as lossless (wav) press preview
RICERCAR RIC418 [70:47]

Regular readers will know that the music of the German baroque is something that I turn to regularly. It’s not always comforting – Lutheranism has some less than exuberant aspects; its founder urged all Christians to live a life of constant repentance – but it also has a considerable upside. Both are represented in this recording of music by Hammerschmidt, from the opening lament for the death of Jesus to the triumphant Easter shout Triumph! Victoria! (track 10).

The notes aptly describe Hammerschmidt as forgotten. He seems to have been a pupil of Demantius, himself not over-represented in the catalogue by comparison with his contemporary Schütz. I’m certainly not complaining that Schütz has received plenty of attention on record, with a complete opus on Carus, but Demantius and Hammerschmidt don’t deserve to languish in neglect. Full marks, then to all concerned for this new recording, not least to Rémy Claverie for having transcribed most of it and his team of proof-readers from the vocal ensemble La Compagnie des Humbles. Ploughing through ancient tomes with such enticing names as Geistlicher Dialogen ander Theil, darinnen Herrn Opitzens Hohes Lied Salomonis and Chor Music auff Madrigal Manier, Fünfter Theil, Musicalischer Andachten can’t have been easy, but the result is well worth the effort.

These portentous titles often contain more than a clue to the nature of the music: that second volume, which furnishes the music on tracks 9, 11 and 13, reminds us that the Italian madrigal style was a major influence on North German composers. (Hammerschmidt was actually Bohemian, but when Bohemia returned to the Roman obedience he settled in Lutheran territory.) In fact, the Italian influence, familiar from the music of Schütz, is apparent throughout the music on this recording. As with Schütz, however, it’s music in an Italian style with a German accent.

None of the music is claimed as receiving its first recording, but very few of the pieces face any competition. The title track, for example, has only one rival, a fine collection of music by Hammerschmidt and Hüttenbrenner Verleih uns Frieden (Rondeau ROP7001 – DL News 2012/20). Similarly, Christ lag in Todesbanden is the only work to overlap with a CPO recording from Weser Renaissance (999846-2 - review; DL News 2012/20).  Even if there were as wealth of rival recordings, it’s hard to imagine the music receiving finer performances than here from Vox Luminis and their director Lionel Meunier.

The title and cover picture of the recording are slightly misleading. The opening work is a meditation on the death of Jesus, and several of the other tracks are solemn, but the light of Easter breaks in on track 7 with a version of Christ lag in Todesbanden, a text set by Bach and many others. And three tracks later the brass bursts forth in exultation; the trombones which have featured on track 7 are joined by trumpets and a bassoon here. My only reservation is that this track, Triumph, Triumph, Victoria! would have brought the house down if placed at the end, though the echo effect in the final work, Siehe, wie fein und lieblich ists, extolling the virtues of unity – a message we could well take to heart today – is also very effective.

The only concession to music in celebration of the resurrection permitted in the English Prayer Book at the time was the recitation or singing of the Easter sentences at the start of Mattins, in place of the usual Venite. Even though a composer like Byrd could make these attractive, they pale beside this Hammerschmidt work and other Italian-influenced German music of the period, once the little local difficulty of the 30 Years War had ended. (Byrd The Great Service and other works, Hyperion CDA67533 – review; or In Chains of Gold 2, music by Byrd, Bull, Morley, etc. Signum SIGCD609: Recommended – review).

For the Ascension, the English Prayer Book makes no special musical concessions, apart from specifying the appropriate psalm. An English visitor hearing Hammerschmidt’s Ich fahre auf zu meinem Vater when this piece was published in 1671 (track 14, again with trumpets and bassoon) would have had his socks knocked off, though I don’t believe they wore socks at the time. Purcell was only 11 or 12 then, so our putative sockless English visitor would not yet have heard any of his music.

The editorial group have given Vox Luminis fine modern texts; the performances live up fully to the ensemble’s already strong reputation, and they are equally well supported by Clematis on three tracks. There are some performers so consistently first-rate that I long ago ran out of words to praise them. Such are the Tallis Scholars, whose project to record all the Masses of Josquin has just been completed with its final volume (Gimell CDGIM051: Missa Dux Hercules; Missa D’ung aultre amer and Missa Faysant regretz: Recommended – review). Such, too, are Vox Luminis and Clematis.

The recording, as heard in lossless sound, is excellent. I also sampled it as streamed in 24-bit, which brings even better sound at a price. Some careless editing spoils an otherwise first-class booklet, at least in my press preview: Hammerschmidt loses his ‘a’ in the main title, the cover painting is ascribed to Dürer in 1405, seven decades before he was born, ‘Hohes Lied’ becomes ‘Hobes Lied’, and ‘dass’ becomes ‘das’ (track 9) in the list of contents.

That’s a very minor complaint, however, to offset against my enthusiasm for the rest of this recording, which should bring Hammerschmidt’s music into wider circulation.

Brian Wilson

Ach Jesus stirbt [5:12]
O barmherziger Vater [3:21]
Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz [3:57]
Ach Gott, warum hast du mein vergessen [5:20]
Erbarm dich mein [4:55]
Bis hin an des Creutzes Stamm [4:34]
Christ lag in Todesbanden [6:41]
Vater unser [6:42]
Ich bin gewiß, dass weder Tod [4:04]
Triumph, Triumph, Victoria [6:41]
Die mit Tränen säen [3:39]
Wer wälzet uns den Stein [4:25]
Ist nicht Ephraim mein theurer Sohn [ 3:21]
Ich fahre auf zu meinem Vater [3:44]
Siehe, wie fein und lieblich ists (Zweifach Echo à 12) [4:14]