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Brabant 1653
Julie Thyana Roset, Deborah Cachet (soprano), Alex Potter (alto), Mirko Ludwig, Carlos Negrin López (tenor), Dominik Wörner (bass)
Holland Baroque
Rec. 2020, Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as a stereo 16/44 download with pdf booklet from Outhere
PENTATONE PTC5186895 SACD [64:28]

This year (2021) is the commemoration of the death of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck, generally considered the greatest composer of the Netherlands, between the Franco-Flemish school and the 20th century. Many music lovers believe that hardly anything substantial was written in the Netherlands during the 17th and 18th centuries. That is largely due to the fact that music life was very different in the Low Countries, and in particular the northern part, known as the United Provinces, compared with that in other parts of Europe. There was no royal or aristocratic court with its own chapel, and the 'official church', the Reformed Church, did not need any music, as only congregational singing of psalms was allowed. Most music written and published in the Netherlands was intended for domestic performance, and that includes sacred songs, which were often contrafacta of songs by the likes of John Dowland.

The best-known composer of the 17th century was Constantijn Huygens. His collection Pathodia Sacra et Profana has been recorded several times. It includes settings of verses from psalms in Latin as well as Italian and French songs. Other names are Carolus Hacquart, Johann Schenck, Cornelis Padbrué and Servaas de Koninck. There is certainly more than meets the eye, and it has to be said that it is also due to the general neglect of their own heritage by musicians from the Netherlands, that so little is known and has made it to disc.

The present disc sheds light on a particular important but largely unknown aspect of Dutch music history: the sacred music written in the southern province of Brabant, which always remained true to the Catholic faith. Officially, Catholic worship was forbidden in the Low Countries. In the northern provinces, they had their conventicles - little churches that could not be seen from the public road. Worship in such churches was possible thanks to the fact that often the authorities turned a blind eye to the activities of religious minorities. In the south there were some enclaves that were exempted from the laws of the Republic. It allowed for the existence and the creation of liturgical and generally sacred repertoire, sung in conventicles or in convents. Boys were trained as singers and so were 'spiritual virgins', who not only learned to sing, but also to play instruments, such as the organ and the violin.

The two musical directors of Holland Baroque, Judith and Tineke Steenbrink, have been busy with an extensive research into the music and the performance practices in Brabant, and this has resulted in the disc under review. In the programme we meet several composers whose names are not unknown to those who have a more than average interest in the music of the Low Countries, but will certainly be new to most music lovers, and certainly those who are not Dutch. The best-known of them is Benedictus a Sancto Josepho, born as Benedictus Buns, who has left a considerable oeuvre of vocal and instrumental music. For many years he was sub-prior at the monastery of Boxmeer. Between 1666 and 1700 nine collections of his music were printed. All but one include sacred music; one edition consists of sonatas for two violins and basso continuo, which were recorded complete by the Ensemble Séverin (NM Classics, 2004). Over the years I have heard some of his vocal music, which struck me for its quality and expressiveness, and that impression is confirmed here. He is rightly given a leading role in the programme. The most remarkable piece is Quis me territat: "Who frightens me? Who rages and roars?" Here he makes use of the stile concitato to illustrate textual elements referring to war - a war against dragons and "cunning serpents". His settings of liturgical texts as Salve Regina and Magnificat are also very nice.

Carel (or Charles) Rosier seems to have had no ties to Brabant, and from that angle he is a bit of the odd man out. He was a violinist who was active as such in Amsterdam, but also served the (Catholic) Elector Maximilian Heinrich in Bonn. On a title-page of 1691 he is described as vice-Kapellmeister at the court at Cologne. Later he acted as Kapellmeister of Cologne Cathedral. It seems very likely that he was a Catholic, and his setting of the Marian antiphon Regina coeli may attest to that.

Cornelis Verdonck may be the least-known composer in the programme. He was a representative of the Franco-Flemish school. He was born in Turnhout in the Spanish Netherlands, and for many years he was a singer in the royal chapel in Madrid. His oeuvre includes madrigals and chansons, which were mostly included in anthologies. Only a few sacred works have been preserved, among them a setting of the Magnificat. Amor Jesu dulcissimus is taken from a collection of 1629.

Lastly, Herman Hollanders: he was born in Breda. He worked first in Eindhoven as vicar of the chapter as well as schoolmaster and organist. Later he was singing master and organist in Breda, but when in 1637 the town fell into the hands of stadtholder Frederik Hendrik and became officially Protestant, Hollanders seems to have fled to the Spanish Netherlands. Nothing is known about his whereabouts and his activities since then. Two collections of his music have been printed, in 1631 and 1634 respectively. They have been recorded by the Brabantsch Muzyk Collegie, directed by Ruud Huijbregts (Et'cetera, 2006). O vos omnes, one of the responsories for Holy Week, has been taken from the 1631 collection, and here harmony is used in the interest of text expression.

The programme also includes some specimens of plainchant. They represent a particularly interesting aspect of this project, as here we don't get the chant as we know it ("gregorian"), but with additional basso continuo and raised leading tones. It shows that the performance of plainchant changed according to the aesthetic ideals of the time. This is in line with what we know, for instance, from France, where contemporary collections show that plainchant was performed with the then common ornamentation.

The Steenbrink sisters thought it apt to ask the cabaret artist and singer Herman Finkers, who has a strong interest in the Catholic faith and liturgical matters, to add a setting of his own of the Ave Maria. When invited he replied that "surely my music will hardly add any lustre to an album of 17th-century music." The sisters disagreed, but he was right. Stylistically it is out of touch with the rest of the programme, and he is also not from Brabant, for that matter. I could have done without this piece and rather have had another piece from the 17th century. In the booklet the Steenbrink sisters express the hope that more of this repertoire will be brought to light in the future. That is something I wholeheartedly agree with. This disc amply demonstrates the remarkable quality of what was written in Brabant in the 17th century.

I am happy to add that the performances by Holland Baroque could hardly be better. The six singers do a great job. They have the right voices to bring this repertoire to life. Sancto Josepho's Quis me territat is a highlight and is tailor-made for Dominik Wörner. Julie Roset has a lovely voice which is perfectly suited for Sancto Josepho's Salve Regina. Rosier's Regina coeli is given an excellent performance by Alex Potter. The on*ly regret is that the liner-notes largely omit information about the composers. The English translation should have informed the reader about the identity of Finkers. He may be well-known in the Netherlands, but I don't think anyone across the borders know who he is.

This disc deserves a special recommendation, because of the quality of the repertoire (and the fact that it is largely unknown) as well as the fine performances. This is the perfect recording for curious minds who like to expand their musical horizon and their knowledge of European (music) history.

Johan van Veen

Jesu redemptor omnium [4:46]
Cornelis VERDONCK (1563-1625)
Amor Jesu dulcissimus [2:32]
Benedictus A SANCTO JOSEPHO (1642-1716)
Magnificat, op. 5,3 [6:53]
Media vita [2:52]
Ave gratia plena [3:15]
Salve Regina [2:48]
Alma redemptoris mater, op. 5,10 [5:24]
Carl ROSIER (1640-1725)
Regina coeli [op. 2] [3:30]
Salve Regina, op. 5,8 [8:42]
Quis me territat?, op. 6,8 [8:16]
Triosonata in a minor, op. 8,1:
adagio [2:18]
Herman HOLLANDERS (1595-c1640)
O vos omnes [4:16]
Herman FINKERS (*1954)
Ave Maria [2:34]
Tantum ergo, op. 9,11 [6:20]

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