Samuel Capricornus: Sacred Concertos

Samuel Capricornus
Sacred Concertos for voices and violas da gamba
Long & Away consort of viols and vocal soloists
Cornetto Verlag COR 10044. 71’11

One of the most distinctive sounds of the early German Baroque is the sensuous combination of voices and viols, here represented by music by the little-known Samuel Capricornus. Born in Bohemia, Capricornus’s Protestant family soon fled to Bratislava for fear of the Counter-Reformation. After studies in more religiously tolerant Silesia, Capricornus moved first to Stuttgart and then briefly to Vienna at the end of the devastating Thirty Years War. In Vienna he joined the sumptuous musical court of Ferdinand III, whose death shortly afterwards led to another move, this time back to Bratislava (the Preßburg) before being invited to the prestigious post of Kapellmeister to the Württemberg court in Stuttgart.

Typical of the musical and religious influences of his time, notably in Vienna, Samuel Capricornus combined Italian musical ideas with Germanic Lutheranism, as evidenced in the sacred concertos on this CD. With roots in early Italian opera, the contrast between recitative-like and concerted imitative passages, often flowing between one and the other. This style seemed to have caused some consternation amongst the more conservative Stuttgart musicians, who engineered a campaign against Capricornus.

At the core of the CD are extracts from his 1660 publication Zwey Lieder Von Dem Leyden Und Tode Jesu, with the six sections of of the second hymn. These alternative passages for voices and viols in a fine example of the more northern German musical style of the early Baroque that can be compared with the many sacred works composed by the North German organist composer of the period leading up to Buxtehude.

This is fascinating music, generally well performed, although I do think the vibrato of most of the singers is both disturbing and anachronistic for music of this period.

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