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Lamento Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER (c.1623-1680) Serenata a cinque
Heinrich Ignaz Franz BIBER (1644-1704) O Dulcis Jesu
(Pars Iii) [9:10]
Johann Michael BACH (1648-1694) Ach, wie sehnlich wart ich der Zeit
Johann Heinrich SCHMELZER Lamento sopra la morte
Johann Christoph BACH (1642-1703) Ach, dass ich Wassers gnug hätte
Johann Jakob FROBERGER (1616-1667) Toccata
II (libro secondo, 1649), Ricercar I (libro quarto, 1656) [8:10]
Christoph BERNHARD (1628-1692) Was betrübst du dich
Heinrich Ignaz Franz BIBER Passacaglia
Damien Guillon (countertenor)
rec. 20-23 May 2019, Saint-Michel Abbey, Saint-Michel-en-Thiérache, France.
Texts and translations included.
Reviewed as 24/96 (wav) press preview
Over the years, I have come to take it for granted that Café Zimmermann
recordings, whether of familiar music or unfamiliar, will be well worth
hearing. Their set of recordings of Bach Concertos is one of the best; the
only annoyance is that works such as the Brandenburg Concertos and the
Orchestral Suites are spread across separate CDs, but the six constituent
discs can be obtained at an attractive price in a box set (Alpha 811,
download only, around £33 in lossless quality) and the Brandenburgs are
available together on a 2-for-1 offering (Alpha 300, download only, around
£5 in lossless –
DL News 2015/9). There’s even a 17-hour collection of their recordings on Alpha 434
(download only, around £57 in lossless sound).
On their new recording they offer a combination of the relatively familiar
– we have not been short of complete recordings of the Biber Rosenkranzsonaten, or Rosary Sonatas, recently, and there have
been several very fine recordings of the music of the Bach family before
Johann Sebastian – and the more recherché. There are just a handful of
recordings of Schmelzer’s Lament for Ferdinand III, all but two of them
download only. As a reminder that the Outhere group as a whole is a prime
source for out of the way baroque music, one of those CDs comes on the
Zig-Zag Territoires label (Schmelzer Sacro-Profanus Concentus Musicus, Ensemble Masques/Olivier Fortin,
Schmelzer’s five-part Serenata opens the proceedings in a stylish
performance which sets the generally grave tone; the notes tell us that it
was written for Fasching, the mad carnival which precedes Lent,
but this must have been a very serious Fasching.
It’s followed by the first of the three works by Biber to be included. With
a different style from the Lutheran North German composers, Biber was Kapellmeister in Salzburg; his music is redolent of the Catholic
counter-reformation and what the notes refer to as ‘Jesus-centred
mysticism’. The attribution of O Dulcis Jesu is not secure, but
the style is that of Biber, and the use of scordatura-turning was
one of his hallmarks. Whoever the composer, it receives a fervent and
sensitive performance. The many fans of Emma Kirkby will be interested in
an album which she made for Berlin Classics with Bell’Arte Salzburg and
Annegret Siedel (Salzburg Baroque, Music at the Court of
Prince-Archbishops: 0300120BC). Kirkby and Siedel take the piece noticeably
faster and the overall effect is more matter-of-fact, less heavily
incense-laden. Though Kirkby can do no wrong for me, and her singing here
has lost little of the beautiful purity of yore, for once I’m prepared to
set her aside in favour of Guillon and Café Zimmermann.
The third suite from Biber’s instrumental Mensa Sonora reveals him
in less flamboyant mood, though the closing Ciacona is rightly
described in the notes as sublime. My copy of the augmented Purcell
Quartet’s stylish recording of the complete Mensa Sonora has
become corrupted, despite having been kept on two different hard drives,
but I enjoyed listening via Naxos Music Library. (CHAN0748 –
DL News 2015/9).
I’ve mentioned recent recordings of the music of the Bach family; one such,
labelled Lamento, like the new Alpha, features Magdalena Kožená
with Musica Antiqua Köln and Reinhard Goebel and includes Johann Christoph
Bach’s Ach, dass ich Wassers gnug hätte. (DG Archiv 4741942). I
sometimes feel that Kožená makes the music too much of a display piece, and
Goebel frequently pushes the tempo too hard, but I have nothing but praise
for their moving performance of this piece. Having investigated via
Naxos Music Library, I have made a mental note to return to this album in the not too distant
Can Damien Guillon, whose countertenor voice is rather lighter than
Kožená’s, match her in this work? The tempo set by Café Zimmermann is very
fractionally broader than Goebel’s and, yes, Guillon manages to make the
music just as moving as Kožená, a feat which both singers achieve without
unduly leaning on the music and despite the fact that the words are an
unlikely conceit on the idea that there cannot be enough water in the
singer’s head to shed sufficient tears.
The music of Christoph Bernhard was almost unheard of until recently, but
the labels of the Outhere group have been busy bringing it to our
attention. His setting of the penitential psalm Aus der Tieffen,
out of the deep, is included in a recent Ricercar collection which was
awarded Recording of the Month (RIC415 –
review). It’s beautifully sung there by Julie Roset (soprano), with Clematis, but
I’m not altogether sure whether I would choose her singing there or Damien
Guillon’s of Was betrübst du dich (why art thou troubled, my
soul?), on the new Alpha. May I choose both, please?
Just to complicate matters, but in a good way, Vox Luminis include a very
fine performance of the Kyrie and Gloria from Christoph
Bernhard’s Mass Christ unser Herr zum Jordan kam on another
first-rate Ricercar recording: Ein feste Burg – Luther and the Music of the Reformation (RIC153,
2 CDs). I was convinced that I had reviewed that when it was released in
2017 – except that I didn’t, but Simon Thompson did, and made it a
Recording of the Month.
As the title implies, it’s an anthology of music by Lutheran composers,
from the man himself onwards; Schütz (d.1672) and Bernhard, who died in
1692, are the last to be included. The two CDs are housed in a hard-back
book, the works presented in the order of the church year, from Advent to
Trinity (CD1), with music for various services on CD2. The names of Vox
Luminis and their director Lionel Meunier on the cover would be enough to
guarantee quality, and the result doesn’t disappoint.
The illustrated book – hardly a booklet – is packed with useful information
about the Lutheran reformation and the composers who wrote music for it.
Texts and translations are included. I can only apologise for not having
reviewed this little treasure house before; my only excuse is that my
preview came in mp3, only at 249kbs, and that I never obtained a better
download. Actually, all considered, it sounds well enough to assure me of
the quality of the CDs. An added incentive is that the recording is on sale
for £15.45 until 5 October 2020.
I said that we had several good recordings of the Biber sonatas.
John Holloway on
super-budget Erato Veritas remains one of the best – at around £8.50 for
the 2-CD set, you’d hardly notice the price, though, bizarrely, the
lossless download costs more, and comes without a booklet (5620622). More
recently, Rachel Podger and her team, on two SACDs, have challenged the
hegemony of the Veritas (Channel CCSSA37315). For these and other
DL News 2015/9.
The performance of the Passacaglia from the Rosary Sonatas on the
final track of the new Alpha recording – from first violin Pablo Valetti, I
presume – is just as intense as Rachel Podger’s or John Holloway’s on
Erato. It makes an excellent conclusion to a very fine recording.
The Outhere group have come a long way recently in improving the quality of
their press previews. Not long ago they were in mp3 only, at less than the
full bit-rate, and I had to hold off from reviewing them in that format.
Congratulations are in order now, though; not only do the files come in
lossless quality, this one came in 24/96 format, which makes it easier for
me to say how very good the recording is.
Some of the recent reissues from Alpha and Ricercar have come with scrappy
and inadequate booklets, but there has been real improvement there, too.
Their full-price releases have always been accompanied with informative and
helpful booklets, and this is no exception, though I do regret their
decision to abandon the period art-work on their covers; I’m not sure what
this one is meant to signify, except that someone’s windows badly need
Don’t be put off by the Lamento title; this is music which speaks
to the soul, in performances to match. I can’t keep slapping the
‘Recommended’ label on recordings from Alpha and the other labels in the
Outhere family, but I seriously considered doing so for this.