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Johann ROSENMÜLLER (1617/19–1684)
Magnificat anima mea Dominum: Geistliches Konzert (Sacred concerto) [15:26]
Der Name des Herren: Geistliches Konzert [4:57]
Domine, probasti me: Psalmkonzert (Psalm concerto) [6:32]
Ego te laudo: Geistliches Konzert [4:20]
Sinfonia prima (Suite from Sinfonie e sonate da camera, Venice, 1670) [7:58]
Confitebor tibi, Domine: Psalmkonzert [11:39]
Welt, ade! ich bin dein müde: Chorale [3:42]
Nunc dimittis: Geistliches Konzert [7:15]
Bleibe bei uns, denn es will Abend werden: Dialogus (Dialogue) [8:14]
Ensemble 1684/Gregor Meyer
rec. St Georgen Rötha, 24-26 September 2019.
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as downloaded from press access.
CPO 555174-2 [70:56]

Having run out of words of praise, soon I shall have to cut and paste my words from one CPO recording of baroque music to the next. I’m writing this on the day that my review of music by Georg Caspar Schürmann has appeared and, though that comes from Weser Renaissance and Manfred Cordes, this recording of sacred concertos and other music by Johann Rosenmüller from Ensemble 1684 and Gregor Meyer is just as fine.

In my review of the Schürmann, volume 5 of a series of CPO recordings of music associated with Wolfenbüttel Castle, I mentioned an earlier Rosenmüller recording of seven sacred concertos based on Psalm 31 (CPO 555165-2). That fine recordng came, like the rest of that series, from Weser Renaissance, but Ensemble 1684 have also recorded Rosenmüller’s sacred concertos in a double celebration of the composer: it appeared in 2018 to mark (approximately) his four hundredth birthday, while the ensemble’s very name commemorates the year of his death (555187-2). Reviewing that recording, Stuart Sillitoe expressed a desire to hear more of Rosenmüller’s music; here it is, and it’s just as good.

Rosenmüller’s dates are significant: during his formative years Monteverdi was composing his finest madrigals, Books 6-8, the Scherzi musicale, Selva morale e spirituale, Il ritorno d’Ulisse and L’incoronazione di Poppea, and he died one year before the birth of Bach and Handel, so his music represents that transitional period when North German composers were greatly influenced by the Italian style. Indeed, his biography spans Lutheran North Germany, which he fled, and Venice where the Sinfonia prima on this recording was published. Some of the music he composed there for Compline has been recorded by the eponymous Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble and Arno Paduch (Christophorus CHR77333, rec. 2009, texts and translations included). His style hardly changed in the meantime; as his friend Caspar Ziegler commented, any visitor to Leipzig hearing Rosenmüller’s music could easily have imagined themselves in Venice and Telemann mentions him along with Italian composers as his models for sacred and secular music.

Inevitably, the music for this final office of the day – not ‘Evensong’ as the English translation of the title, misleadingly, has it – is quieter in tone than the Vespers Magnificat on the new CPO, but the music is still of a high quality, especially the canticle Nunc Dimittis and the closing antiphon, Salve Regina, and the performances and recording do it justice.

The Magnificat which opens the new CPO recording would not have been out of place in St Mark’s, Venice. Scored for two each of sopranos, altos, tenors and basses, with cornets, sackbuts, strings and continuo, it receives a stirring performance. All it lacks to compete with settings by Monteverdi, Rigatti, Grandi and Cavalli – the latter an especial influence on Rosenmüller – is the Venetian practice of spatially divided choirs. I’m pleased to see that Presto have reissued on two special CDs the Paul McCreesh recording of Venetian Vespers 1643, including music by all the Venetian composers that I have just named, and it’s slightly less expensive than the lossless download, which comes without booklet (4761868). Ignore the typo which calls this ‘Five Vespers’, instead of ‘First Vespers’.

I have seen it suggested that the vocal contribution to the new CPO could have been a little more positive within the overall balance. Certainly, it’s always a problem in music of this style for neither the singers nor the instrumentalists to dominate, but I was not troubled by any serious imbalance on the new recording.

Even in the domestic setting of Bleibe bei uns, where the travellers to Emmaus beseech the risen Jesus to stay with them for the night, the dialogue is perfectly balanced against the instrumental accompaniment. If anything, the singers are a little prominent; at this stage in the narrative they have not yet realised who their mysterious companion is. The dramatic moment when they do is captured in Caravaggio’s dramatic chiaroscuro painting The Supper at Emmaus.

As well as the more dramatic Vespers Magnificat, the new recording includes the Compline canticle Nunc Dimittis; that, too, receives a very fine performance, as do the other pieces, several of which appear to be receiving their first recordings.

The DG Archiv McCreesh recording of Venetian Vespers has been a constant visitor to my CD player since it was released in 1993, so it’s a measure of my appreciation of the Rosenmüller if I say that the new CPO may well now be making that journey as often, albeit digitally from my computer via the Dragonfly DAC. If you are contemplating making the leap to streamed and downloaded music, the Dragonfly is one of the least expensive ways of cleaning up the music between computer and amplifier. The Mark II Dragonfly black is now less than half its original price despite being improved in quality, while the better still red and even better cobalt are still reasonably priced.

The Sinfonia or Suite which comes at the midway of the recording not only provides a welcome, slightly less dramatic intermission from the vocal music, it also sent me in search of more of Rosenmüller’s purely instrumental music on record. The King’s Noyse offer such a collection on Harmonia Mundi HMU907179, download only, no booklet. Purchasers in US$ will find the price more amenable than UK purchasers, who should be able to find it for around £10 in lossless sound. In addition to the Suite in C from Studentenmusik, it contains five short sonatas and settings for soprano, sung be Ellen Hargis. It’s fine music in very sympathetic performances; only the lack of a booklet is a problem.

On his return to Germany in 1682 Rosenmüller published a set of twelve sonatas for 2-5 instruments which bear the marks of his time in Venice. Once again, CPO have done the composer excellent service with a recording of these from Musica Fiata and Roland Wilson (777688-2). That was reviewed alongside a rival recording from Ensemble Masques on Atma by Johan van Veen, who was impressed by both – review.

The new CPO sent me in a most enjoyable search of these other CPO and Christophorus recordings of Rosenmüller. Best of all, there’s still more to explore, enough to keep me happy for a week, but, alas, there are other things to do.

All the recordings mentioned, except the Harmonia Mundi, come with texts and translations and informative sets of notes. It’s a sad refection of the disappearance of Latin that the booklet for 555165-2, having correctly spelled In te Domine speravi (In thee, O Lord, have I trusted) then mis-spells it seven times as In te Domino in the track listings. The use of Latin by a Lutheran composer at this time is in no way remarkable; as recently as Bach’s time and even later parts of the Mass and the Magnificat at Vespers were still sung in Latin on high days.

There’s one more recording to mention, of Vespers for the Virgin Mary, composed in Venice, and very well performed by Cantus Cölln and Conrad Junghänel (Harmonia Mundi HMC91611/12). It’s download only and, like the majority of this label’s back catalogue, comes without a booklet. UK buyers should be able to find it for around £15; US$ purchasers may be better served by the version. When it was released in 1997, Cantus Cölln had recently made a fine recording of the Monteverdi Vespers; the Rosenmüller was hailed as even more persuasive. I missed it then, but, listening to it now, it seems likely to be another Venetian recording as regularly heard as the Archiv. On this basis, the story that Rosenmüller received death threats from other composers in Venice seems plausible.

Rosenmüller’s music is a real find if you don’t yet know it. The very fine new CPO is as good a way as any to begin to explore it, but I make no excuse for having mentioned some other recordings here. Even then, the list is not exhaustive; the recording companies, not least CPO, have been doing well in recent years for a composer who receives such a brief mention in the text books – the standard biography dates from 1898 – and I hope that their efforts will be duly rewarded. If you can afford only one recording of his music, go for the new CPO, but do try to listen to some of the others, via Naxos Music Library, for example.

Brian Wilson

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