Categories
Recording

Stoltzer: Missa duplex per totum annum, 3 Psalm Motets

Weser-Renaissance, Manfred Cordes
61:50
cpo 999 295-2

[dropcap]A[/dropcap] prolific composer in the first quarter of the 16th century, Stoltzer’s reputation has suffered somewhat from the fact that he worked away from the main centres of musical activity, spending the final years of his life in Hungary, and his music missed out on much of the modern research into the music of the period. As might be expected from the chosen court composer of Maria of Hungary, Stoltzer is an accomplished composer in the style of Heinrich Isaac, although, in the Psalm motets, three of which are performed here, the influence of Josquin can be detected. Weser Renaissance perform the Psalm motets with a blend of instruments and solo voices, a sound which they have cultivated over many years and have applied to a wide range of repertoire. It is both beautifully expressive and wonderfully blended, and I would have liked to have heard the mass movements being given the same treatment. This is particularly the case as the unaccompanied voices never sound quite so secure, and the intonation is sometimes a little dodgy. The mass is performed in alternatim, with the Credo, not set by Stoltzer, entirely chanted. The Agnus Dei is apparently from a different setting by Stoltzer, for which the German-only notes offer no explanation that I can find. In addition to the vocal music advertised, the disc includes two attractive instrumental pieces.

D. James Ross

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Categories
Recording

Bach: Ein feste Burg

Wegener, Allsopp, Hobbs, Harvey SATB, Kammerchor Stuttgart, Barockorchester Stuttgart, Frieder Bernius
49:03
Carus 83.282
BWV80, 235

[dropcap]R[/dropcap]ecorded in June 2017, the CD is among Carus Verlag’s celebrations of the Reformation anniversary while promoting its good new edition of Bach’s choral works. The excellent soloists and experienced chorus, orchestra and conductor make these reliable performances, and it is good to have the opening page of the full score of the new Carus edition by Klaus Hoffman (2014) reproduced in the liner notes.

Carus – and many German choirs and conductors – are still wedded to performing Bach cantatas with substantial choirs (here 7.5.5.4) and you can only buy instrumental parts for the cantatas online in sets of 4 first and 4 second violins, 3 violas and 4 bc parts. They also sell a pack of the W. F. Bach additional brass parts that got included in the BG in the 19th century, and are still sometimes passed off as Johann Sebastian’s today. This performance is still in this tradition.

That said, the balance between singers and orchestra is good, and between individual singers in the single voice or duet numbers and obbligato instruments. The A/T duet Wie selig sind doch die  (7 in BWV 80) is beautifully done; and Und wenn die Welt voll Teufel wär  (5) goes with a great swing. But at a running time of 49:03, would there not have been room for Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild  (BWV79), that other great Reformationsfest  cantata? Perhaps the reason is that Carus has now produced another CD with BWV 79, that includes the Missa in G  (BWV 236) and Cantata 126.

David Stancliffe

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Categories
Recording

Bach: Erhalt uns, Herr

Mields, Schachtner, Kristjánnson, Berndt SATB, Gaechinger Cantorey, Hans-Christoph Rademann
59:07
Carus 83.311
BWV79, 126, 236

[dropcap]T[/dropcap]hese cantatas and the Mass in G, which parodies several numbers of BWV 79, are given a full-blooded performance with the substantial band of the Gaechinger Cantorey which uses 6.5.4.3.2 strings and 8.7.8.7 voices. They use both harpsichord and a small organ reconstructed for them after one by Gottfried Silbermann recently discovered in Seerhausen, Saxony. Unfortunately, no details are provided of this instrument in spite of their website saying ‘The Gaechinger Cantorey is basing its new approach on this kind of sound and orchestral arrangement, starting off with the sound of a replica Silbermann organ’. This is welcome news, as a number of photos on the website show modern orchestral instruments (a bassoon and a horn are visible), and the large numbers in both choir and band make the sound rather solid.

The liner notes in German and English have an abridged (in English) version of the essay on Bach the Reformer, placing the cantatas and the mass in their historical and musical context, which is welcome, but the impression of the performances is that, although the chorus singers and the band are well matched, the substantial forces make the ‘solo’ singers work hard to be heard instead of achieving that natural balance we might expect. I have yet to read a scholarly refutation from Germany of Andrew Parrott’s The Essential Bach Choir, which has so influenced performance practice elsewhere, and this performance from such a prestigious Academy shows little evidence of what is now accepted in many quarters as good practice.

In particular, I feel that the tromba in the opening movement of BWV 126 is overpowered by the strings and choir, and the Tenor in the aria Sende deine Macht  has to oversing – where is he standing in relation to the oboes? – while the Bass in Stürze zu Boden  is splendid, singing with both organ and harpsichord, and quite excellent cello and fagotto playing. In BWV 79, the playing of the large band in the open chorus is wonderful in its articulation in the fugato sections, and the horn playing as good as it can be. Here the balance in the aria for Alto and oboe obbligato seems better, though the bass is overweight here as it is in the duet – how many contrabassi are playing here? This all gives the orchestral sound a rather ‘modern’ feel, and at times – especially in the final chorale, the combined sound with an appropriate predominance of organ hardly lets us hear the horns.

These questions of balance seem to have sorted themselves out better by the Mass, though, when the Bass begins the Gratias, I am conscious of a less immediate sound – immediacy is sacrificed to some extent in the recording to the grand effect. The S/A Duetto Domine Deus  again has a very smooth orchestral sound, and an over-prominent 16’ tone.

The contrast here with Carus other CD – Ein feste Burg  – is instructive; although both use substantial choirs, that one feels more immediate and is recorded closer. If you like a full-blooded choral sound, the well-rehearsed Gaechinger Cantorey could hardly be bettered. But, as a recording, it is less integrated that we might expect these days – it feels more like a choral society accompanied by a first-rate orchestra who are sitting between them and the audience, with very distinctly different solo voices for the arias. It is an excellent recording – in a slightly old-fashioned style.

David Stancliffe

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Categories
Sheet music

Early English Church Music

English Thirteenth-century Polyphony
A Facsimile Edition by William J. Summers & Peter M. Lefferts
Stainer & Bell, 2016. Early English Church Music, 57
53pp+349 plates.
ISMN 979 0 2202 2405 8; ISBN 978 0 85249 940 5
£180

This extraordinarily opulent volume (approx. 12 inches by 17 and weighing more than seven pounds – apologies for the old school measurements!) is a marvel to behold. The publisher has had to use glossy paper in order to give the best possible colour reproductions of many valuable manuscripts. The textual part of the volume gives detailed physical descriptions of each, with individual historical and bibliographical information, followed by transcriptions of the (often fragmented) texts. Most are from British libraries, but some are from Germany, Italy, France and the United States. Though much of the material is accessible online, the publishers hope that a physical reproduction can help researchers and stimulate new interest in the repertory. It will certainly make an eye-catching centrepiece for an exhibition! In addition to giving scholars direct access to these invaluable source without having to sit, staring at a computer screen for hours. For all of these reasons, this apparent luxury will readily justify its price tag.

Fifteenth-century Liturgical Music, IX
Mass Music by Bedingham and his Contemporaries
Transcribed by Timothy Symonds, edited by Gareth Curtis and David Fallows
Stainer & Bell, 2017. Early English Church Music, 58
xviii+189pp.
ISMN 979 0 2202 2510 9; ISBN 978 0 85249 951 1
£70

There are thirteen works in the present volume. The first two are masses by John Bedingham, while the others are anonymous mass movements (either single or somehow related). Previous titles in the series have been reviewed by Clifford Bartlett, and I confess this is the first time I have looked at repertory from this period since I studied Du Fay at university! At that time I also sang quite a lot of (slightly later) English music, so I am not completely unfamiliar with it. I was immediately struck by the rhythmic complexity and delighted to see that the editions preserve the original note values and avoids bar lines – one might expect this to complicate matters with ligatures and coloration to contend with, but actually it is laid out in such a beautiful way that everything miraculously makes perfect sense. Most of the pieces are in two or three parts (a fourth part – called “Tenor bassus” – is added to the Credo of Bedingham’s Mass Dueil angoisseux  in only one of the sources). Each is preceded by a list of sources, a note of any previous edition(s), general remarks about the piece, specific notes on texting issues (most interestingly where the editors have chosen to include several syllables or words under long notes), and then musical discrepancies. All in all an exemplary work of scholarship, beautifully presented, and just waiting for someone to take up the challenge of recording this intriguing and beautiful music.

Brian Clark

Categories
Recording

Amante Franzoni: Vespers for the Feast of Santa Barbara

Accademia degli invaghiti, Concerto Palatino, Francesco Moi
63:04
Brilliant Classics 95344

[dropcap]A[/dropcap]mante Franzoni, a contemporary of Claudio Monteverdi, worked as a composer and musician for the Gonzaga family in Mantua, and the present recording is a reconstruction of Vespers for the Feast of Santa Barbara, using Franzoni’s choral settings, instrumental inserts and relevant plainchant. The performers give a nod in the direction of Franzoni’s more illustrious contemporary by opening the proceedings with Monteverdi’s familiar setting of Domine ad adiuvandum  featuring the famous Orfeo  toccata. This invites a comparison between Franzoni’s music and Monteverdi’s, and throughout the service we are treated to music for cori spezzati, smaller groups and instruments which is certainly in the same league as Monteverdi. Given the fact that Franzoni spent his whole working life in the employ of the wealthy and demanding Gonzaga family, we should hardly be surprised at the high quality of his music, and it is perhaps a result of the prominence of Monteverdi that the likes of Franzoni have been overlooked. There is some lovely singing and playing on this CD, although occasionally a little more passion would have helped things on their way. Apart from the fact that the recording was made in 2010 in Mantua, we are given no details of the recording venue, and to my ears a little bit more resonance would have given Franzoni’s music more of an epic sound such as it would have had in Mantua’s Basilica of Santa Barbara where Franzoni worked. I know of at least one attempt to present Monteverdi’s Vespers music in the context of a service for Saint Barbara, and it is encouraging to see this Italian ensemble exploring the music of a relatively unknown master rather than just giving us yet another account of the Monteverdi.

D. James Ross

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