Georg Österreich: Psalms, Cantatas

Weser-Renaissance, Manfred Cordes
cpo 777 944-2
Der Gerechten Seelen sind in Gottes Hand, Dixit Dominus, Herr Jesu Christ wahr’ Mensch und Gott, Sie ist fest gegrünget, Und Jesus ging aus von dannen

This is the third installment of a cpo series devoted to music for the court of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf, a small but relatively influential establishment especially in the 17th and 18th centuries. After Augustin Pfleger and Johann Philipp Förtsch (both favourably reviewed in EMR) comes a disc devoted to Georg Österreich, whose “claim to fame” has hitherto been the fact that his vast music collection (or perhaps only half of it, since there is a theory that one part of his legacy followed one of his sons into the Baltic lands…) constitutes a major portion of the famous Bokemeyer Collection in the German State Library in Berlin, through which an extraordinary amount of 17th-century music has survived at all. Weser-Renaissance Bremen, who specialise in this repertoire, present five varying and substantial works, ranging from a funeral cantata at seven and a half minutes to a setting of Dixit Dominus that lasts nearer 20! Solo voices (up to five of them) combine with strings and a continuo group of bassoon, chitarrone and organ to produce rather a dark palette, throwing the often angular vocal lines into the limelight. The booklet notes try to disguise Österreich’s pseudo-counterpoint (which falls far short of the sophistication of his contemporaries) as an attempt to give the words more prominence; the fact that this is all very much 17th-century music (he died in 1735, aged over 70) weakens such an argument – perhaps he just was not interested in writing polyphony. This is – as with all of Cordes’s projects – an interesting and well worthwhile recording, with much fine singing and playing to admire. I fear it may not rescue the composer from the footnotes of musicology, though.

Brian Clark