RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR
‘Everything is immaculately judged and the emotion seems to come from the music itself ’
Fabrice Fitch salutes radiant performances by Vox Luminis and Lionel Meunier of music by the 17th-century Bohemian composer Andreas Hammerschmidt
Hammerschmidt ‘Ach Jesus stirbt’ Ach Gott, warum hast du mein vergessen. Ach Jesus stirbt. Bis hin an des Creutzes stamma. Christ lag in Todesbanden. Die mit Tränen säen. Erbarm dich mein. Ich bin gewiss, das weder Tod. Ich fahre auf meinem Vater. Ist nicht Ephraim dein theurer Sohn. O barmherziger Vater. Siehe, wie fein und lieblich ists. Triumph, Triumph, Victoria. Vater unsera. Warum betrübst du dich, mein Herz. Wer wälzet uns den Steina Vox Luminis; aClematis / Lionel Meunier Ricercar F RIC418 (70’ • DDD • T/t)
Compared with the famous triumvirate of his contemporaries, Schütz, Schein and Scheidt (or even Michael Praetorius), Andreas Hammerschmidt (c1611-1675) is an unheralded figure. Those with long memories may recall Joshua Rifkin’s recording of a lovely setting of the chorale melody Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ for Nonesuch (which I listen to every year at Christmas), and since then there has been the occasional anthology (by Weser-Renaissance Bremen, for example). So whether he’s quite as obscure as is suggested in the notes to Vox Luminis’s new offering is a moot point, but here unquestionably he gets in at the front door.
Highly praised in his lifetime as an organist, Hammerschmidt published his compositions at regular intervals throughout his career. This programme draws on a wide range of music, from pieces for solo singers or vocal ensemble with just continuo to polychoral ones with independent instrumental parts. The guiding thread is the Passion story, moving from darkness to light. Towards the end, more festive pieces reveal a different side to the composer (and the ensemble). The subdued atmosphere of the first few pieces has clear echoes of the ensemble’s Award-winning account of Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien (A/11). It is tempered by the same quality of inner luminosity that characterises the earlier recording – a combination of acoustic, vocal plenitude and clarity, and the continuo group that underpins it. Placing the new recording in such company is, I think, a fair reflection of its quality; in fact I’d say it is finer still, because the soloists’ contribution is more telling and even more varied, and the choir’s studiously polished sound stretches here to more boldly delineated effects: that repeated cry of ‘Ach’ at the start of the title-track has the requisite urgency and pathos, whether carried by the ensemble or, later, the soloists. Given how important is the distinction between
30 GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2020