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Psalms and Motets from Renaissance Switzerland
Ensemble Lamaraviglia/Stephanie Boller
Rec. 2020, Aufnahmestudio für Alte Musik, Waldenburg, Switzerland
Texts included, no translations
CLAVES 50-3008 [63:25]

This year (2021) the death of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck is commemorated. He has become best known for his keyboard music, which is performed across the world. He also composed vocal music, but this part of his oeuvre is far lesser known. Some motets from his collection Cantiones Sacrae are more or less part of the standard repertoire of vocal ensembles and choirs, for instance Hodie Christus natus est, often sung during Christmastide. His four books of Psalms are largely terra incognita, and that seems largely due to the fact that Sweelinck arranged the metrical psalms from the Genevan Psalter.

Although these psalms found a pretty wide dissemination, in the course of music history they have seldom been the subject of arrangements, unlike the many hymns written in Germany by Martin Luther and those who followed in his footsteps. The reason is not the lack of musical quality, but the fact that this Psalter was only adopted by Reformed churches, which were not as widespread in Europe as their Lutheran counterparts. Moreover, in Reformed churches only congregational singing of psalms was allowed. As a result there was no demand for polyphonic arrangements of the psalms, let alone for cantatas in which the psalms were included, like hymns were in the cantatas and oratorios by German composers.

On the occasion of the previous Sweelinck year - in 2012, when his birth was commemorated - the Gesualdo Consort Amsterdam, directed by Harry van der Kamp, recorded his complete vocal music, including the four books of Psalms. It was appropriate that they opted for a performance with one voice per part, as this is definitely not music for the church. Sweelinck's settings were intended for domestic performance by a small ensemble of good amateurs. That is how he performed his psalms himself. There has been much debate as to what Sweelinck's religious convictions may have been. There was a time that he was considered a convinced supporter of the Reformed religion, but today scholars agree that this is highly unlikely. It seems more likely that he always remained true to the Catholic faith. That did not prevent him from setting the psalms from the Genevan Psalter. After all, these were rhymed versions of texts which were certainly not controversial and were held in high esteem by both sides of the religious dispute.

At first sight the disc under review here has little unusual to offer. The psalm settings by Sweelinck are the core of the programme, and the performers have added either the monophonic versions from the Psalter or the four part note-against-note settings by Claude Goudimel. The latter was one of the most prominent supporters of the Calvinist Reformation in France and one of the leading composers of his time. However, there is more here than one may expect, and that has to do with the fact that some of the psalm settings are sung in other languages than the original French - the language Sweelinck also used in his settings, despite the existence of Dutch translations in his time.

The Genevan Psalter was not only translated into Dutch, but also into German, Italian and Rhaeto-Romanic. The German versions heard here are taken from an edition published in 1573 which included a translation by Ambrosius Lobwasser, who was a professor of law in Königsberg. In 1749 the four-part settings by Goudimel were published in Zurich, with the German translations of Lobwasser. In 1574 an Italian translation of the Psalter came off the press, and this was the basis of a printed edition of 1740. In this recording we hear, alongside versions in French, examples of Goudimel's settings in German and Italian.

The most surprising part of this disc is Sweelinck. The programme includes several of his settings on texts in Rhaeto-Romanic, the language spoken in what is now Graubünden in Switzerland. In 1733 Lurainz Wietzel published the settings by Goudimel in the language of this region. The big suprise is that a local choir in Zuoz also sang Sweelincks versions in their own language. There was a unique tradition of choral singing there. A pastor and chronicler wrote in 1742: "In Zuoz, there is the most incredible church singing in the whole country, indeed in many countries. (...) The complete Singers Society is divided up into seven choirs. Each choir sings only a few words, the part then immediately taken over by the next choir, while the first one pauses. And so the singing circulates, the choirs alternating in the most particular manner until the chant is complete." That is how the psalms were sung, including those by Sweelinck. The books with his psalms were bought in the Netherlands in 1707. This is quite surprising, as it shows that his music was still available in printed editions. From that we have to conclude that they were still sung. That is a notable fact as at that time it was unusual to perform 'old music' - basically music written more than a couple of decades ago. The church choir singers copied their own part and replaced the French text with a Rhaeto-Romanic text. And this allowed for a performance of Sweelinck's psalms in Rhaeto-Romanic. The new texts fit the music wonderfully well.

I wonder whether even Sweelinck scholars were aware of this highly interesting aspect of Sweelinck reception. Who would have thought that his Psalm settings would have found their way to a then remote part of Switzerland? It also contributes to our knowledge of the dissemination of the Genevan Psalter across Europe. From this perspective this disc cannot be rated highly enough. For those who have a special interest in psalm singing and in particular the place of the Genevan Psalter in music history, this disc is not to be missed.

The Ensemble Lamaravilgia is an excellent group of singers. I had never heard of them, but I am impressed by what they bring to the table here. Thanks to the perfect blending of the voices, the monophonic psalms and the note-against-note settings by Goudimel come off perfectly. It also guarantees the maximum of transparency in Sweelinck's polyphonic settings.

For me, who has grown up with the Genevan Psalter, this is a disc to treasure. I am sure that it has also the qualities to convince others of the beauty of these melodies.

Johan van Veen

[Genevan Psalter]
Psalm 105: Ludè tuots la Divin' essentia [00:49]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK (1562-1621)
Psalm 105: Ludè tuots la Divin' essentia [02:04]
Claude GOUDIMEL (c1514-1572)
Psalm 25: A toy, mon Dieu, mon coeur monte [01:14]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK
Psalm 25: A toy, mon Dieu, mon coeur monte [02:49]
[Genevan Psalter]
Psalm 121: In ôt hae vers ils munts guardô [00:41]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK
In ôt hae vers ils munts guardô [02:21]
Psalm 12: Am do succuors ô Dieu [00:52]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK
Am do succuors ô Dieu [03:43]
[Genevan Psalter]
Psalm 122: Erfreut hat sich mein Herz und Muth [01:14]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK
Psalm 122: Erfreut hat sich mein Herz und Muth [02:36]
[Genevan Psalter]
Psalm 104: Sciogl'al Signor alma mia canti bei [01:15]
Psalm 104: Sciogl'al Signor alma mia canti bei [04:04]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK
Psalm 42: Sco ziev' ouva fraschia gira [06:46]
Psalm 9: De tout mon coeur t'exalteray [03:23]
[Genevan Psalter]
Psalm 33: Hor su, voi spirti giust'e santi [01:06]
Psalm 33: Hor su, voi spirti giust'e santi [03:34]
[Genevan Psalter]
Psalm 100: Vus chi sur terra stais, cantè [00:35]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK
Psalm 100: Vus chi sur terra stais, cantè [05:22]
Psalm 8: O nostre Dieu et Seigneur amiable [00:48]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK
Psalm 8: O nostre Dieu et Seigneur amiable [02:48]
Psalm 63: O Dieu, t'êst quel Dieu ferm ch'eau hę [03:52]
[Genevan Psalter]
Psalm 150: Lobet Gott im Himmelreich [00:53]
Psalm 150: Lobet Gott im Himmelreich [02:39]
Jan Pieterszoon SWEELINCK
Psalm 150: Or soit loué l'Éternel [07:43]

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