Conversations avec Dieu

Conversations avec Dieu
Le Concert Étranger. Itay Jedlin
Ambronay AMY045. 77’17

Motets and Cantatas by Hammerschmidt, Scheidt, Telemann and Bruhns. Organ pieces by Scheidemann and Scheidt. Instrumental pieces by Monteverdi, Hammerschmidt and Rosenm:uller.

One of the musical traditions of German Lutheran church music was the sacred cantata or motet addressed directly to God, often in a conversational style, with a response to the plea coming either from God or, more frequently, from Jesus or other believers. This CD explores several examples of this genre, with a focus on the composer Andreas Hammerschmidt, given an overdue bit of exposure.  Although he was well known in his day, and composed more than 400 works, his music is not often performed today. It is in a relatively simple style, in comparison with his contemporaries, and shows the gradual development of a true German Baroque style, built on the influence of Italian models. Five of his vocal works are included here, together with an instrumental Pavane.

Most of the pieces recorded here come from the second quarter of the 17th century, during the horrific years of the Thirty Years War and a time when many musical establishments were being reduced. The pious nature of many of the texts can perhaps be explained by this difficult time. The CD opens with Telemann, composing in a different ere than Hammerschmidt, Scheidemann and Scheidt – he was born six years after Hammerschmidt’s death, and long after the death of Scheidemann and Scheidt. Nikolaus Bruhns is another much later composer. Both Telemann and Bruhns were composing in the same mode although in a more developed, and frankly rather more successful style, than Hammerschmidt. This makes me wonder this CD might have more appropriately concentrated on the music of Hammerschmidt. Attractive as it is, the wide range of composers represented are not closely linked and the appearance of somebody like Monteverdi seems a bit odd.

The organ pieces (played by Anne-Marie Blondel) are also a bit out of kilter with the rest of the programme, although the two verses of Scheidemann’s Erbarm dich mein enclosing Hammerschmidt’s choral setting are effective. Apart from a passing reference to the performer, there is no information about the organ pieces included on the CD, or the organ upon which they are played. I would guess that the organ has a basis in the French classical style, but possible with other historic influences. It is clearly in an unequal temperament, but not really in the style that Scheidemann and Scheidt would have recognised. It is likely that many of the cantatas on this CD would have used the main church organ as the continuo instrument, rather than the little box organs that proliferate nowadays. Questions of pitch and temperament not withstanding, it would have been good to have heard this on this recording.

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