Die Helle Sonn Leuchtet: Deutsche Kirchenlieder (German Hymns)

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DIE HELLE SONN LEUCHTET: Deutsche Kirchenlieder Stimmwerck CPO 7777922 (66:11)

As the disc title states, this is a collection of German hymn-tunes from the 15th to 17th centuries, a few very familiar but most now quite obscure. While most of the pieces included here are (as one would expect) examples of Protestant hymnody, a few selections from the Catholic Counter-Reformation are featured as well. In many cases, the melodies and their harmonizations are by two different composers, who likewise run the gamut from thrice-famous to utterly unknown. Authors of the melodies include Nicolaus Decius [Nikolaus von Hofe] (c. 1485–after 1546), Johannes Eccard (1553–1611), Hans Leo Haßler (1564–1612), Heinrich Isaac (c. 1450–1517), Martin Luther (1483–1546), Philipp Nicolai (1556–1608), Michael Praetorius (1572–1621), Johann Hermann Schein (1586–1630), Heinrich Schütz (1585–1672), Caspar Ulenberg (1549–1617), Melchior Vulpius (c. 1570–1615), and the incredibly prolific “Anon.” Creators of the harmonizatons include Arnold von Bruck (c. 1500–1554), Joachim Burmeister (c. 1566–1629), Sethus Calvisius [Setho Calviso or Seth Kalwitz] (1556–1615), Eustache du Caurroy (1549–1609), Johann Crüger (1598–1662), Marcus Gerrariurius [or Gerriurius] (fl. after 1628), Conrad Hagius [Konrad von Hagen] (c. 1550–1616), Johannes Jeep (1581/82–1644), Jan Pieterzoon Sweelinck (1562–1621), Johann Walter (1496–1570), plus Eccard, Praetorius, Schein, Schütz, Vulpius, and Anon. from the previous list.

This disc differs from the norm of other such anthologies in two ways. First, the hymns are sung not by a choir but by a male quartet, consisting of countertenor Franz Vitzthum, tenors Klaus Wenk and Gerhard Hölzle, and bass Marcus Schmidl. Second, the singers are variously accompanied not just by an organ (played by Michael Eberth), but by assorted combinations of various Renaissance instruments (Arno Paduch on cornett, Arno Jochem de La Rosée on alto and bass da gambas, Ann Fahrni on bass da gamba, and Christoph Eglhuber on lute).

Back in 34:5 I reviewed a fine recording by this ensemble of music by Leonhard Paminger. Founded in Munich in 2001, Stimmwerck dedicates itself to the rediscovery and performance of works from the German Renaissance and early Reformation periods. If at times I found myself hankering after the richer sound of a full choir, that is no criticism of these excellent performances, rendered by both the singers and instrumentalists with transparency, elegance, refinement, sensitivity, delicacy, and imagination. It says a great deal that I was particularly taken with the solo appearances of Franz Vitzthum, since apart from Andreas Scholl countertenors are not a breed of vocalists I much fancy; but the crystalline purity, sweetness, and lightness of his voice, devoid of any insipid whining quality or hootiness, won me over immediately. Being congregational hymn-tunes, these are not virtuoso display pieces, but rather good sturdy ones of affecting simplicity. CPO provides recorded sound of ideal warmth and clarity, plus detailed booklet notes regarding recent scholarship on early German hymnody and complete German-English texts. If, like me, you enjoy this repertoire, then you will make this disc a priority acquisition; highly recommended.

FANFARE: James A. Altena

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: 777792-2

  • UPC: 761203779222

  • Label: CPO

  • Composer: Anonymous, Hans Leo Hassler, Heinrich Schütz, Isaac Albéniz, Johann Hermann Schein, Johannes Eccard, Kaspar Ulenberg, Martin Luther, Melchior Vulpius, Michael Praetorius, Nikolaus Decius, Philipp Nicolai, Traditional

  • Performer: Arno Jochem De La Rosee, Arno Paduch, Christoph Eglhuber, Michael Eberth