Reviews

GMCD 7255 – The Season in Zürich

The Purcell Singers, Mark Ford – Conductor

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Amphion November 04

PPThe Seasons in Zurich
The Purcell Singers
PPSacred Vocal Music from 18th Century Switzerland
Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge
Guild GMCD 7255 and GMCD 7248

The Guild label consistently tries to bring out new, exciting and inventive recordings – and these fall into this category. Both are recordings of Swiss composers who are relatively unknown, such as Schmidlin, Bachoffen and Meyer. The always excellent choir of Gonville and Caius, Cambridge produces a rather more refined sound than the Purcell Singers, which suits the nature of the Baroque/early Classical style of music. Both discs provide a welcome insight into an unfamiliar repertoire, and the performance of the Cambridge choir is without fault.


Fanfare November/December 03

Composers have possessed a fascination with nature, natural phenomena, and the changing of the seasons for as tong as music has existed. With regard to nature, the countryside, and the gentle and simple folk who once inhabited it, Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, op. 68, the “Pastoral,” immediately comes to the mind of many. It also holds vivid depictions of natural phenomena, including rain and thunder. As for ringing the changes of the calendar, who could forget Le quattre stagioni (“The Four Seasons”) from Vivaldi’s Il cimento del Armonia e del Invenzione. Further down the ladder of familiarity we find Gregor Wemer’s New and Curious Musical Instrument Calendar, Tchaikowsky’s The Seasons (a series of piano miniatures, each bearing the name of one of the months), Alexander Glazunov’s ballet of the same name, and another Le quattro stagioni, this time a ballet that Giuseppe Verdi included in his opera I vespri sicilianni. Of course, the crowning jewel is Haydn’s Die Jahreszeiten, a monumental oratorio in the Tradition of Handel.

The Seasons in Zurich is an interesting and appealing but far-from-profound collection of music with continuo accompaniment by three 18th-century Swiss composers: Johannes Schmidlin (1722-72), Hans-Jakob Ott (1715-69), and Johann Caspar Bachofen (1695-1735). The text for two of the three works on this compact disc came from the writings of Scotsman James Thomson via a German translation of Bartold Heinrich Brockes; the author of the third, used by Schmidlin, according to annotator Chris Walton “is anonymous, though a comparison with the Brockes/Thomson text almost suggests the author was trying to quote it from memory.” Walton also notes, “The attraction of the seasons as subject matter … lies not in mere piety, but rather in the fascination of the seasons as God’s engine that drives the world.”

The most substantial work – actually the lengthiest – on this Guild release is Hans-Jakob Ott’s Die Jahreszeiten, a cantata for three soloists, SSB chorus, and continuo. Ott’s treatment of Brockes’s poem takes the liturgical music of Benedetto Marcello as a point of departure. The text is broken down into sections, each with a few lines, and these are assigned to the three soloists and chorus. Much the same treatment is accorded the text in the settings of Schmidlin and Bachofen, but Ott includes an obbligato cello that adds a bit of variety to the texture. Undoubtedly written for performance by talented amateurs, the overall quality of the music is good, but it does rely to some degree upon repetition of sequences and lacks effective tone painting as well as the ingenuity one might find in the work of a more gifted composer. That said, though, there are attractive moments in these three works that will certainly fall nicely on the ear.

The Purcell Singers turn in performances that are acceptable but that are marred by an occasional lapse in ensemble and ragged attack, leaving me to suspect that this material was hurriedly prepared and we all know that haste makes …
Michael Carter


Neue Zürcher Zeitung – 3.9.2003

Vergessene Söhne
Alte Ziircher Komponisten auf CD

Die Kirchenmusik in Zürich musste infolge der Reformation bis ins frühe 19. Jahrhundert hinein ohne Instrumente auskommen. Lange Zeit glaubte man deshalb, dass das Feld der instrumentalbegleiteten geistlichen Musik in früheren Zeiten gänzlich brachgelegen habe. Neuere Forschungen haben nun gezeigt, dass da, doch einige, wenn auch bescheidene Pflänzlein gewachsen sind. Aufgeführt wurde diese Musik nicht in den Kirchen sondern in den Häusern der vornehmen Bürger, was ihre durchgehend kleine Besetzung erklärt. Einen wichtigen Anstoss zu diesen Entdeckungen gab und gibt die Zentralbibliothek Zürich, welche die einschlägigen Drucke und Manuskripte aufbewahrt.

Die beiden CD-Einspielungen, die neulich beim Label „Guild“ erschienen sind, konzentrieren sich auf geistliche Vokalmusik aus dem 18. Jahrhundert. Die eine von ihnen vereinigt geistliche Lieder von Johann Caspar Bachofen, Johannes Schmidlin, Johann Jakob Walder, Johann Heinrich Egli und Franz Meyer von Schauensee. Der Grossmünster-Kantor Bachofen (1695-1755) zählte damals zu den tonangebenden Persönlichkeiten des musikalischen Lebens in Zürich. Sein Duett „Schäfelein, wo bleibst du doch“ für Sopran, Bariton, Streicher und Basso continuo ist in einem äusserst schlichten Stil geschrieben und vereinigt die beiden Stimmen erst in der Schlussstrophe. In Schmidlins „Magnificat“ wechseln homophone Ensembleteile mit etwas ausgeschmückteren Soloteilen ab. Die Sängerinnen und Sänger des College-Chors aus Cambridge, die sowohl die chorischen wie die solistischen Partien singen, entsprechen diesen schnörkellosen Musikstücken mit ihren geraden und affektarmen Stimmen auf das Beste.

Die zweite CD vereinigt drei Zürcher Kompositionen, die textlich auf der Versdichtung „The Seasons“ des schottischen Autors James Thomson beziehungsweise auf der deutschen Übersetzung von Barthold Heinrich Brockes fussen. Das Wirken Gottes zeigt sich hier, ganz im Geist der Aufklärung, als ein den Naturgesetzen gehorchender Ablauf der Jahreszeiten. Die interessanteste der drei Kompositionen stammt von Hans Jakob Ott (1715-1769), der Mitglied des Zürcher Grossen Rats und der Gesellschaft für Physik und Wirtschaft war. Das Werk ist in kleine Abschnitte eingeteilt, in denen der Chor und die beiden Solosopranistinnen in wechselnden Kombinationen zum Zug kommen. Die instrumentale Begleitung konzentriert sich auf Orgel, Cello und Theorbe. Im Unterschied zu Bachofen lehnt sich Ott an den ornamentalen italienischen Stil an. Dem entspricht auf der Interpretationsebene der im Vergleich zum College-Chor Cambridge etwas saftigere und vibratoreichere Klang der von Mark Ford geleiteten Purcell Singers.

Thomas Schacher

Sacred Vocal Music from 18th Century Switzerland. Kornpositionen von Johann Caspar Bachofen, Johannes Schmidlin, Johann Jakob Walder, Johann Heinrich Egli und Franz Josef Leonti Meyer von Schauensee. The Choir of Gonville & Caius College Cambridge, The Cambridge Baroque Camerata, Leitung: Geoffrey Webber. Guild GMCD 7248 (1 CD). The Seasons in Zurich. Choral Music from the 18th Century. Kompositionen von Hans Jakob Ott, Johannes Schmidlin und Johann Caspar Bachofen. The Purcell Singers, Leitung: Mark Ford. Guild GMCD 7255 (1 CD).


BBC Music Magazine – August 2003

To make any extravagant claims for the quality of the music on this disc would be rash – it’s frankly not the sort of material that will ever elicit epoch-making performances – but it represents a fascinating byway of the late Baroque/early Classical repertoire. Three Zürich-based composers are represented: Johann Caspar Bachofen, Hans-Jakob Ott and Johannes Schmidlin. The pieces are recorded in reverse chronological order, ending with 11 of the 300-or-so tiny settings that Bachofen made around 1740 of texts from Barthold Brockes’s collection Irdisches Vergnügen in Gott. Charming, well-crafted miniatures, no more. By contrast, Ott’s DieJahreszeiten published in 1747, is a cantata of some ambition and substance, and it contains some impressively vivid ideas. It sets Brockes’s translation of Scottish writer James Thompson’s ‘Hymn to the Seasons’- the same work, and translation, that inspired Haydn’s last, great oratorio. And Schmidlin’s Hymnus auf die Allmacht, Weissbeit und Güte Gottes, published in 1761 and setting an anonymous text based on Brockes’s work, shows a beguiling melodic gift.

All this the sopranos and basses – no tenors or altos are demanded – of the young London-based Purcell Singers, together with a first-rate continuo team, perform with excellent discipline and well-blended ensemble under the guiding spirit of conductor Mark Ford.
Stephen Pettitt


Choir and Organ July 03

THE SEASONS IN ZÜRICH:
CHORAL MUSIC FROM THE 18TH CENTURY
The Purcell Singers / Mark Ford (dir)
Guild GMCD 7255

***

SACRED VOCAL MUSIC FROM 18TH CENTURY SWITZERLAND

The Choir of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge (Geoffrey Webber, dir) / The Cambridge Baroque Camerata (Jonathan Hellyer Jones, dir)
Guild GMCD 7248

***

Two Guild CDs give an airing to neglected music by 18th-century Swiss composers working, often in private, around the constraints on music imposed by the Swiss Reformation. Names common to both CDs are Johannes Schmidlin, a pastor and music teacher, and Johan Casper Bachofen, sometime cantor of the Zürich Grossmünster. The Purcell Singers under Mark Ford are assigned these gentlemen’s settings (and a third by Hans-Jakob Ott) of a popular contemporary poem eulogising God in creation. The disc is a cascade of solos, duets, trios and choruses, with vigorous continuo work from Clareth Deats (cello) and Fred Jacobs (theorbo).

A disc from the Choir of Gonville and Caius College and the Cambridge Baroque Camerata vividly exposes Bachofen’s compositional inferiority to Schmidlin in the tedious repetitiveness of a sheep-seeking pastorale and a ‘desperately seeking Christ’ duet. Some of conductor Geoffrey Webber’s solo voices echo the artlessness of the music, the woman generally carrying it off better than the men. Canticles by Schmidlin and a Haydnesque Te Deum by Francisco Meyer provide meatier fare, and are attractively performed. In both CDs the German pronunciation needs more work.
Graeme Kay