Beloved & Beautiful - Netherlands Bach Society
Channel Classics CCS SA 27308
Bach, Schütz, Böhm, Buxtehude
The Netherlands Bach Society
Jos van Veldhoven (conductor)
Hundreds of years before the birth of Christ, a collection of love songs grew up. Under the title of the “Most beautiful of songs”, they found a home in the Old Testament-it was Martin Luther who first gave them the name of “Song of songs”-and since that time they have inspired and fascinated a vast number of theologians, mystics, philosophers, poets, painters, and, last but not least, composers. Particularly during the Baroque period, these poetic, sensual, vividly descriptive texts were set over and over again to music, and they inspired librettists to expand on the original texts. Some of the most beautiful settings of the Song of Songs were produced in Germany. One classic example is the motet for double chorus, Steh auf, meine Freundin (Arise, my beloved) (SWV 498) by Heinrich Schütz. It is among the few of his surviving compositions which have not been printed. We still know little of the background for this lively work; it has been dated approximately 1650.
Review by John Miller - December 6, 2008
Another of Channel's themed issues featuring the Netherlands Bach Society. This time the theme is the ancient collection of love poetry which found its way into the Old Testament, unforgettably titled 'Song of Songs' by Martin Luther. Through the ages, the sentiments of these poems have inspired philosophers and creative artists of all types, and many composers in particular. The German Baroque composers were greatly attracted by these psalms, a tasty selection of which is recorded here.
Most of these works are essentially of chamber type, and are excellently performed here by the very experienced NBS artists under the direction of Jos van Veldhoven. All of the soloists make the most of the music, and their styles are aptly varied, as these works range over several generations from the C17th to the C18th. The programmer has not, however, placed the works in chronological order.
First we are treated to a Cantata by Georg Böhm, who was a much-admired teacher of the young JS Bach. Noted mainly for his large output of highly influential keyboard works, few of Böhm's cantatas survive. The writer of the text of 'Mein Freund is mien' takes the psalm line 'My beloved is mine, and I am his', meditating and expanding on it in a sequence of movements for two choirs ( SATB and strings), soloists (including a male alto) and continuo. Each movement begins with the signature verse, and the piece is topped and tailed by a tutti, with the soloists in between accompanied by the harpsichord/theorbo. The opening and closing choruses (sung one to a part) are very madrigalesque as sung here, thus harking back to the early Baroque, whereas the arias are more Italianate.
Another treatment of the same Psalm text, but this time set more or less verbatim, follows. This is the most substantial item on the disc. Johann Christophe Bach was JS Bach's great-uncle, and this Wedding Cantata (Meine Freundin, du bist schön) has come down to us in the Altbachisches Arkiv compiled by CPE Bach after his father JS Bach's death. It is a most unusual work, and makes me suspect it would have better been performed at a wedding reception rather than in church. JC Bach, having solemnly set the words of the psalm, adds his own very secular story about two lovers meeting as a marginal commentary, which Channel have fortunately reproduced along with the text. Bach makes this sound rather like a small opera scene, with four soloists, an SATB choir (again one to a part), solo violin, 3 violas and continuo. Soloists are accompanied by an exuberantly florid violin solo, played by Antoinette Lohman with filigree delicacy and great taste: it reminded me of Biber. The climax of the work is an aria in the form of a chaconne with no less than 66 variations. This is a charming and delectable work, constantly impressing with its varied textures, which are responded to by the performers with great warmth and aplomb.
The oldest work in the disc is is the motet for double chorus, Stehe auf, meine Freundin (Arise, my beloved) (SWV 498) by Heinrich Schütz, probably dating to about 1650. It is an ecclesiastic piece for double choir and basso continuo, and was appropriately recorded in the resonant Lockhorstkerk, Leiden. This bouncy, vigorously imitative work is strongly antiphonal, and Channel have separated the two choirs left and right to give a very vivid impression, with the chorus sounding much larger than it is.
The final work is by JS Bach, a Wedding Cantata, BWV 196, from his early days at the Weimar court. At this stage of his development, I suspect that only Bach aficionados would have correctly identified his authorship of this piece in a quiz. He was still using the antique imitation vocal style of his teachers and forebears, but beginning to experiment with Italian influences. Scored for soloists, vocal ripienists, strings and basso continuo, it begins with a jaunty sinfonia, followed by a joyful chorus, and an Italianate soprano aria, then a thoughtful bass and tenor duet asking for the Lord's blessing on the couple - and their children to come. It ends with a benedictory chorus which resounds with dashing happiness.
Except for the Schütz noted above, the recordings are studio-based (Musikcentrum Phillips), supporting the intimacy of their scoring, but with enough bloom to let the voices soar at crescendos. This is a wonderful example of a DSD recording with all its finesse in reproducing vocal and instrumental timbres, so that one can be happily lost in the musical experience. The production is up to the usual high Channel standards (apart from the odd typo), with the informative notes in English and German. Texts are of course included. The front cover illustration is both beautiful and apt - a painting of a stem of lilies from 1630.
A programme of high-quality Baroque music from off the beaten track, superbly performed with affectionate artistry and realistically recorded. What more could you want?
Copyright © 2008 John Miller and HRAudio.net