Ensemble Clematis - Nun danket alle Gott - MusicWeb International

Most of the works on this ‘encounter between Lutheran music and the Italian Baroque style’, as the booklet describes it, are rarities with no current recordings to their credit, including the Hammerschmidt Nun danket all Gott which gives its name to the whole collection. Only the short Buxtehude cantata Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe is at all familiar; it’s included, for example, on a Chandos collection of his music, sung by Suzie LeBlanc with the Purcell Quartet.

Most of the music is taken from the Düben manuscript, compiled by the organist of that name at the Lutheran church in Stockholm, and now housed in the Uppsala museum. It’s our only source for many of the works contained in it, including the Monteverdi Confitebor tibi, Domine, in many ways the most inventive piece here. Otherwise, the majority of the music in the collection was written by Lutheran composers who had been to Italy or were influenced by contemporaries who had. Though the influence of Monteverdi and the Gabrielis is clear in all the music, there is a great deal of variety from one work to another, which means that the soprano-plus-ensemble format never sounds stale.

It might have been better to have begun with the Monteverdi, since one purpose of this recording is to demonstrate the influence of his music and that of his Italian contemporaries on North European composers. And, while I’m being mildly critical, I would have liked some of Schütz’s music to have been included; he was one of the first Lutherans whose music was inspired by his time in Italy with the Giovanni Gabrieli, and there would have been room for a short work of his. No matter, Carus have been doing us proud with their complete Schütz choral and vocal music – see review of Volume 20.

Though so much is unfamiliar, all the music here is enthralling, largely due to the contribution of Julie Roset, well supported by Clematis and their joint directors. I first encountered Ms Roset as one of the soloists in a Ricercar recording of Monteverdi’s Lettera Amorosa, with Capella Mediterranea (RIC390). The burden of the singing there was carried by another soprano, Mariana Flores, but I’m delighted that Roset has been given her own album. Her voice has the purity of Emma Kirkby, than whom, as regular readers will know, there is none greater. Roset’s voice has the purity of a treble, but with much greater expressive power. I look forward to hearing a good deal more of her in the future; until then, I can guarantee that I shall be listening to this recording many times. I played it straight through a second time immediately after the first hearing. It’s perhaps no coincidence that Roset’s earlier recordings, and those of Clematis, who offer such excellent support, have previously specialised in Italian music of the period.

Now generally regarded as genuine Monteverdi, along with the six other known settings of Psalm 110, this Confitebor tibi (labelled No.1, alongside another setting, No.3) was first recorded by Les Arts Florissants and William Christie on a 1986 album together with excerpts from Selva morale e spirituale, now available at super-budget price (Harmonia Mundi D’Abord HMA1951250). The solo soprano, Jill Feldman, sings with beautiful clarity and she is very sensitively accompanied. On their own, these performances deserve all the praise which the album has received over the years, but it does sound very slightly matter-of-fact by comparison with the new Ricercar and the recording, dubbed ‘clear and spacious’ by the Penguin Guide, seems rather distant at normal volume settings. All that said, the Harmonia Mundi is well worth its inexpensive price.

Suzie LeBlanc in Wenn ich dich nur hab (Chandos – see above) also sings with great beauty and clarity and is very sensitively accompanied; that recording is well worth having, although, as it remains at full price, it’s more expensive than the Harmonia Mundi, even as a download. Once again, however, Roset and Clematis give a performance to outshine even the Chandos.

Bernhard’s Aus der Tieffen, a setting of the penitential psalm ‘Out of the deep’ features on a Passacaille recording entitled Schütz and his Legacy – which, since Schütz was one of the principal vehicles whereby the Italian style came to North Germany, is based on a similar concept to the Ricercar (PAS1023). The soprano there, Alice Fouccroulle, is accompanied by In Alto and Lambert Coulson. That’s another recording well worth considering. Once again, however, though it’s very close, Roset would be my ultimate choice.

The only thing which may give the Anglophone listener pause about the concluding Hammerschmidt Nun danket alle Gott is that it’s not the tune which will be familiar to those who know the English translation of the hymn, ‘Now thank we all our God’. It’s actually a livelier setting than the rather dreary one which goes with the English version. It crowns a splendid recording to which it provides the title.

Regular readers may know that I’m not over-generous with the ‘Recommended’ accolade – perhaps the consequence of years of working as an examiner – but I seem to have hit a good patch recently, and this is certainly part of it; it’s one of most wonderful recordings to have come my way recently. The majority of the texts are penitential in nature, but the settings are spiritually uplifting.

MusicWeb International
01 April 2020