Tobias Michael: Musicalische Seelenlust

Weser-Renaissance, Manfred Cordes
cpo 777 935-2

It is only 18 months since another recording with this title appeared. Fortunately, where Ensemble Polyphonique chose works from both of the composer’s sets (1634 for five voices and continuo, and 1637 for different combinations of voices with and without instruments), Weser-Renaissance’s survey focuses on the earlier set, and, of the 17 pieces on the disk (of a total of 30), only eight are duplicated. They have chosen 10 of 12 settings of psalm texts, and no fewer than four from Isaiah. Where the earlier recording had gamba and theorbo with organ continuo, Cordes has opted for harp and chitarrone. As regular readers know, I am highly sceptical of harp continuo, and I cannot help but wonder if cash-strapped musicians during the 30 Years War could afford to string such an instrument. That said, the absence of stringed instrument on the bass line does mean that the singer’s words in the depths are much clearer than they might be. Where EP interspersed the five-voice madrigals with smaller-scale solos and duets, there is no relief from the soundscape here; even though three sopranos are listed for only two vocal lines, the voices are similar enough for me not to be able to distinguish who is singing (very fine though most of the singing is!), and I cried out for some variety. That is certainly not to suggest that Michael’s music lacks quality – quite the reverse. On several machines, the recorded sound lacks the roundness and warmth of the Raumklang disk, which may have drawn me into the intimacy of those performances. The good news is that there are four more pieces from the first set and 43 (!) from the second set (which features printed ornamented alternatives) that remain for another recording.

Brian Clark