Buxtehude Vincent Bernhardt Indesens IC031

Buxtehude – Herr, wenn ich nur Dich habe
Laureen Stoulig-Thinnes (soprano)
La Chapelle Saint-Marc / Vincent Bernhardt (organ)
rec. 2022, Église Sainte-Croix, Bouzonville, France
Reviewed as a stereo 24/96 download with PDF booklet from Outhere
Texts and translations included
Indesens IC031 [66]

The frontispiece of this disc carries the name of just one composer, Dieterich Buxtehude, and the title of two of his cantatas. This may suggest that the entire disc is devoted to his œuvre. That is not the case, as the track-list shows. The title of the cantatas seems to be the thread of the programme: in addition to Buxtehude’s settings we get compositions on the same text – with some variants – by Johann Rosenmüller and David Pohle, two of his fellow Germans and more or less contemporaries (Rosenmüller is of a previous generation). However, we also get organ pieces which have nothing to do with this particular text. This disc offers the complete organ works by Andreas Kneller; most of them are free works, and the only piece based on a text has no connection to the lyrics of the vocal works. From that perspective, it is a bit of a mystery what exactly the aim of the performers was.

Putting that aside, it is quite interesting to hear several settings of (more or less) the same text. These are verses from Psalm 73 (Vulgata: 72): “Lord, if I have you alone, I do not care for heaven and earth here. If life and limb shall pass away, still you will always be, o Lord, my heart’s comfort and a part of my heart.” The liner-notes – in French only – argue that the fact that this text seems to have been set frequently in Germany in the 17th century, has much to do with the misery caused by the Thirty Years War. That is quite possible, but is hard to prove. These verses have always appealed to Christian believers over the course of history, as they express the hope for God’s assistance in times of distress. We should not overlook the fact that there were more disasters than this particular war; just think of the regular epidemics, fires, floods, and illnesses for which there was no cure.

Buxtehude set this text twice. That is to say, in the cantata BuxWV 38 he confines himself to these verses from Psalm 73, with an additional ‘Amen’. The instrumental scoring is very modest and pretty much the standard in Germany at the time: two violins and basso continuo. This was a scoring common in Italian sacred concertos and was adopted by German composers who were influenced by that style. A famous example is Heinrich Schütz. The entire work, in the form of a sacred concerto, is based on an ostinato bass. In this case, its use may be interpreted as a symbol of the steadiness of the protagonist’s trust in God.

The second cantata, BuxWV 39, is also scored for soprano, but here the two violins are joined by a viola da gamba. The text is somewhat different: it opens with the same verses, but they are followed by two rhyming stanzas, which are from the pen of Anna Sophia, Landgravin of Hesse-Darmstadt, from a book of spiritual meditations, published in 1658. This piece is a so-called ‘concerto-aria cantata’, a term used for pieces in which biblical and free poetic texts are brought together.

The least-known composer, as far as the vocal items are concerned, is David Pohle. He was a pupil of Schütz in Dresden, where he also worked some time at the court. Afterwards he worked at several places, like Kassel, Weissenfels, Zeitz and Merseburg. In 1660, he was appointed Kapellmeister in Halle, and during the 1670s he also worked for other courts. From 1678 to 1682 he was Kapellmeister at Zeitz, and from 1682 until his death he held the same position in Merseburg. Although these were important positions, none of his works were published during his lifetime. Partly due to this, much of his œuvre has been lost – for instance a complete cycle of cantatas for the church year – just one of those has survived – and at least seven Singespiele. His setting of Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe, is comparable with Buxtehude’s BuxWV 39, in that he also combines the biblical verses with free poetry. The instrumental scoring is for two violins and two violas; the latter was common practice in the 17th century. The work is divided into three sections and opens with a sinfonia, marked ritornello. It includes a passage in which the strings produce a tremolo.

Johann Rosenmüller was a prolific composer, who worked for most of his life in Venice. However, even before his settlement there, he was already heavily influenced by the Italian style. Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe, scored for solo voice, five strings and basso continuo, is included in the second volume of his Kern-Sprüche, published in Leipzig in 1652/53. Like Buxtehude in BuxWV 38, he confines himself to the biblical verses. The strong contrasts show his dramatic predilection, which he combines with a great sensitivity towards the text.

The solo parts are sung by the soprano Laureen Stoulig-Thinnes, of whom I had never heard. I am glad that this disc offers the opportunity to become acquainted with her singing, which I like very much. Stylistically it leaves nothing to be desired; she pays much attention to the text, and articulation and dynamics are exactly as they should be. There is just one issue: her German pronunciation is reasonably good, but not really idiomatic. The strings deliver colourful performances, and again I notice with satisfaction a stylistically convincing treatment of dynamics, which is essential in this repertoire.

An asset of this recording is that the basso continuo is played on a large organ built in 1979 by Marc Garnier in baroque style, on which Vincent Bernhardt plays the organ works in the programme. The best-known item is Georg Böhm’s arrangement of Vater unser im Himmelreich. In comparison, Andreas Kneller is far less known. He first worked as organist in Hanover; in 1685 he moved to Hamburg, where he was appointed organist at the Petrikirche. He has left only a few organ works: three preludes (with fugues) and a set of variations on the chorale Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland. Two further preludes are incomplete. One of them has been completed for this recording by Bernhardt. He is a fine performer who feels at home in these pieces, rooted in the stylus phantasticus, which is a hallmark of the North German organ school, and which is also the style in which the vocal items are written.

That is what keeps this programme together, despite the lack of coherence between the vocal works and the organ pieces. This is a most interesting and musically compelling disc, thanks to the nature and the quality of the music, and the standard of the performances.

Johan van Veen

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Presto Music

Dieterich Buxtehude (1637-1707)
Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe (BuxWV 38)
Andreas Kneller (1649-1724)
Prelude in D minor
Georg Böhm (1661-1733)
Vater unser im Himmelreich (IGB 24)
David Pohle (1624-1695)
Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe
Andreas Kneller
Prelude in G
Prelude in F
Johann Rosenmüller (1617-1684)
Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe
Andreas Kneller
Prelude in G (fragment; completed by Vincent Bernhardt)
Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
Dieterich Buxtehude
Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe (BuxWV 39)