Reviews

GMCD 7248 – Sacred Music from 18th Century Switzerland

The Choir of Gonville & Caius College Cambridge, Geoffrey Webber – Director, Gavin Roberts – Organ

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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.


Schweizer Musikzeitung Nr. 4 April 2004

Musique vocale suisse du 18e siècle
Le titre « Musique vocale sacrée suisse du 18e siècle » éveille la curiosité même si l’on ne s’attend pas à rencontrer de grands maîtres. En faisant exception de J.C. Bachofen dont les trois compositions sont trop répétitives et naïves, les oeuvres de J. Schmidlin et de J.J. Walder / J.H. Egli (composées en duo !) sont charmantes et mélodieuses.

Placé à juste titre en premier sur ce CD, l’Hymno Ambrosiano, « Te Deum laudamus », composé en 1763 par le Lucernois F.S.L. Meyer, mérite que l’on s’y attarde quelque peu. Cette musique fait penser aux petits opéras de Haydn écrits pour le premier théâtre rococo d’Esterhazy, avant l’incendie de 1779. La conclusion de l’oeuvre, elle, rappelle certains passages des oratorios de Haendel. Influences de voyages ou de musiciens itinérants rencontrés en Suisse ? Peu importe : cette musique est agréabie… laissons voguer notre imagination!

L’excellent enregistrement restitue fidèlement l’atmosphère intime de la chapelle de Queens’ College à Cambridge. L’ensemble et l’intonation des choeurs des collèges de Gonville et Caius sont impeccables et bien dans le sillon de la grande tradition anglaise (remarquons toutefois qu’il a fallu attendre 1979 pour que les femmes y soient admises !).

Il est d’ailleurs intéressant de noter que la fluidité et l’expressivité du chant font penser au style et au timbre des voix de garçons d’autres choeurs de Cambridge, notamment celui plus connu de Saint John’s College. Et les nombreux soli sont chantés avec une simplicité qui s’accorde parfaitement avec le choix musical.

L’enchaînement des oeuvres est malheureusement dérangeant, car trop abrupt! Ceci mis à part, ce CD se présente bien, avec un livret qui contient les textes et des notes en allemand et en anglais. Notre curiosité est donc pleinement recompensée…
Michael Murray-Robertson

The Organ No.325 September 2003

This CD brings together examples of the works of Meyer, Schmidlin, Bachofen, Walder and Egli (in collaboration with Walder), relatively unknown composers from late 18th century Switzerland. Four of these composers, we are told in the programme notes, were active in Zürich, but Meyer was born and died in Lucerne. Egli and Walder were both pupils of Schmidlin.

The music begins with Meyer’s – Hymno Ambrosiano: Te Deum Laudamus – a decidedly joyful composition which uses all the musical forces heard on this recording to glorious effect. The mixed voice choir, whose recordings specialise in lesser-known and forgotten works blends beautifully in this piece and the following – Floria in excelsis Deo by Schmindlin.

The rendition of Bachofen’s Aria à due: Schäfelein wo bleibst du doch? Was somewhat less satisfying due to some wavering in vocal line and occasionally piercing tone in the upper register and an imbalance between the two voices. However, this music is not the easiest to perform and perhaps highlights the difference between the voice of the solo artist compared with that of a choir soloist.

The Trio: Christi Tod, der Todes Tod, also by Bachofen was a far more enjoyable experience both in terms of the composition and the sounds produced by the singers. There was a much closer and more sympathetic blend between the voices with variety of tone and colour far more in evidence. Similarly, the singers of the Aria é due: Wo ist Jesus meine Liebe? Displayed much sensitive interweaving of vocal line and the echo effect was beautifully rendered.

The organ continuo playing throughout is of a very good standard and particular mention must be made of the controlled and unobtrusive accompaniment to the final recording on the disc – Schmidlin’s Magnificat anima mea Dominum. Here, the organist plays in a controlled and unobtrusive manner whilst at the same time providing excellent vocal support – a truly enjoyable conclusion. This recording is well worth listening to and the simple clarity of much of the music is most refreshing.
JW


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


Choir and Organ July 03

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


Musicweb Friday March 07 03

In reviewing ‘Voices of Africa’ for this site, I suggested that Guild, which already enjoys an enviable reputation amongst specialist collectors of cathedral choral music, was spreading its net ever wider to encompass a varied and eclectic repertoire. This is furthered on this very enjoyable and stimulating disc financed with the help of the ‘Zentralbibliothek Zurich; Switzerland being also Guild’s home base. The disc and its companion (GMCD 7255) adds to a previous duo of Swiss music issued by Guild (GMCD 7175 and GMCD 7177).

Sacred Vocal Music, has works set to both Latin text and German words. The Latin setting by Schmidlin, ‘Gloria’ (tr 2) and ‘Magnificat’ (tr 9) are, to my ears, much leaner in musical invention than, for example, Bachofen’s ‘Trio’ (tr 6), and particularly ‘Aria à due’ (tr 8), that I found particularly enjoyable. In the latter piece Jennifer Dunford and Catherine Bell match each other, phrase by phrase, with pure tone and legato line including delightful ‘sotto voce’ singing – nearly eight minutes of vocal and musical delight! Indeed it is the vocal strength of the four soloists in Schmidlin’s long ‘Magnificat’ (tr 9) that distracts from the lack of musical invention in the piece. Enjoyable too is Bachofen’s other ‘Arie à due’ included here (tr 3) albeit the melodic invention is leaner than on track 8 and the voices are soprano and bass. The soprano, Abigail Boreham sings with eloquence although I would have enjoyed a more graceful ending to some phrases, whilst the bass (more baritone in timbre) has clear abbreviated staccato passages early in the piece his tone is rather dry later on.

The ‘Hymno Ambrosiano’ by Meyer (tr 1) betrays a warm, vibrant, Latin influence probably related to the composers training in Milan and being Lucerne-based rather than Zurich. The two sopranos sing here with admirably pure tone. The sleeve-note suggests that it is music that owes much to the contemporary South German Catholic tradition. The choir singing here, and indeed throughout, is of a high standard with excellent balance and articulation.

The recording catches the voices, soloists and choir in a clear and warm, but not over-resonant acoustic, whilst the contributions of the Cambridge Camerata and the organ continuo are supportive not intrusive. The sleeve-note by John Reed Coulter of the University of Pretoria could gainfully have been somewhat more informative and discursive. All texts are given with English translation.

The supporters of Guild’s eclectic repertoire will find much to enjoy in this disc.
Robert J Farr


Classics Today Thursday February 20 03

In the notes to this well-performed and often musically intriguing recording, we’re reminded that “sadly, the study of western musical history does not spend a lot of time on the music of Switzerland.” An understatement to be sure, but as this program shows, at least where church music of the 18th century was concerned, Swiss composers derived virtually every structural device and stylistic mannerism from creative sources beyond their borders–Vienna, for instance, along with southern Germany and Italy. The lack of nationalistic distinction or even of one unique musical voice assures that the work of these very competent composers will be compared with that of their far more illustrious and influential contemporaries–Haydn and Mozart, for starters. Not surprisingly, Meyer, Schmidlin, Bachofen, & Walder come off most notably as fine technicians who provided their constituencies with functional, often colorful, even charming works that range from sturdy liturgical settings (Te Deum and Magnificat) to dramatic dialog.

Franciscus (Franz) Meyer’s Te Deum, as with almost all Te Deum settings, is long and wordy and employs all the 18th-century church music tricks of the trade, alternating chorus with a quartet of soloists and working to extend the harmonic progressions to dispatch the words as quickly as possible while avoiding the impression of repetitiveness. Bachofen’s Aria for soprano and bass (Schäfelein wo bleibst du doch?) offers the program’s most unique concept: nearly 12 minutes of dialogue between shepherd and lost sheep, complete with the shepherd’s frequent, pleading cries, “Schäf! Schäf! Schäf!” and the sheep’s corresponding “Wo! Wo! Ach!” More straightforward are the two little songs Drittes Morgen-Lied (Third Morning Song) and Auf meines Gottes treu (God’s faithfulness) by Johann Walder, gentle tunes with organ accompaniment, very prettily sung by Julia Doyle.

And so goes the program, continuing with a chorale-like trio and another extended Aria for two voices by Bachofen and concluding with Schmidlin’s substantial (nearly 15 minutes) Magnificat. This last shows a fair degree of refinement in the vocal writing if not much in the way of harmonic interest–and ultimately suffers from a dearth of compelling ideas to sustain its length. The world-class Gonville & Caius choir, as expected, gives full measure to these works and likewise the uniformly excellent soloists, all of whom realize that while this isn’t great music, it nevertheless is quite tuneful and easily singable–and with such a sincere, caring interpretive approach it serves its listeners well. The sound is pleasingly bright, the acoustic space nicely resonant while conveying an impressive clarity and vitality to the voices.
David Vernier