Come to my Garden, my Sister, my Beloved

Voces Suaves, Jörg-Andreas Bötticher
69:57
deutsche harmonia mundi 1 90758 49752 5
Music by Franck, Haussmann, Palestrina & Schein

My first encounter with the Swiss-based vocal ensemble Voces Suaves came when they took part in the valuable eeemerging project. I thought at the time that they appeared more advanced, more mature than some of their competitors, being very impressed with their singing of madrigals by Giaches de Wert and Monteverdi (see the report of the 2014 Ambronay Festival on this site). Here they turn their attention to German repertoire of the time of Monteverdi, with results that are in many ways equally as impressive, if not completely satisfying.

The majority of the CD is devoted to settings from the Song of Songs by Melchior Franck (Geistliche Gesäng…, 1608) and extracts from two of Johann Schein’s publications, Musica boscareccia  of 1621/1628 and Diletti pastorali  (1624). Both the Schein collections are settings of German translations from the two most famous collections of early Baroque pastoral poetry, Tasso’s Aminta  and Guarini’s Il pastor fido. Stylistically the works of the two composers are very different, Franck’s more solid, chordal or largely syllabic settings contrasting markedly with those of Schein, which are 5-part continuo madrigals much along the lines of Monteverdi’s late madrigalian writing. The real gems here to my mind are the three madrigals from the 1624 collection, exquisitely turned works embracing warmly expressive Italianate lyricism. Listen, for example, to the exquisite ‘O Amarilli zart’, a paradigm of intense longing. Anyone seeking a larger collection of these lovely settings might try tracking down a 1989 recording by Cantus Cölln, also on DHM.

But all this music is well worthy of attention. If the ‘Song of Songs’ settings eschew the overt eroticism some find in the poetry in favour of the religious conceit of viewing them in the context of Christ the bridegroom, they work well on their own terms, with a rhetorical power similar to – if not quite the equal of – that we find in the works of Schütz. In addition to the vocal works the CD includes several short instrumental pieces, including, appropriately, transcriptions of two extracts from Palestrina’s ‘Canticum canticorum’.

The performances display many of the qualities I noted back in 2014, the voices well blended, finely tuned and often producing sound of great beauty. What I would have liked here is rather more attention paid to the texts and the interpretation of them, diction not always being as precise as would be desirable. In sum, there is a danger at times of a degree of blandness. But overall the CD is well worth investigating. The note is excellent, but it would have been helpful to have been given details of the performing forces involved on each track.

Brian Robins

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