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Briefly Noted: Johann Rosenmüller

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J. Rosenmüller, Marienvesper, Knabenchor Hannover, Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble, Barockorchester L'Arco, J. Breiding

(released on January 8, 2016)
Rondeau ROP7019-20 | 115'09"

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J. Rosenmüller, Vespro della Beata Vergine, Cantus Cölln, Concerto Palatino, K. Junghänel
(Harmonia Mundi, 2008)
The late Renaissance and early Baroque form of the sacred concerto came to Germany by way of Heinrich Schütz, who studied in Venice in 1609 to 1612 with Giovanni Gabrieli, then organist at the Basilica of San Marco. That was during the undistinguished tenure of Giulio Cesare Martinengo as Maestro di Cappella, who was succeeded by Claudio Monteverdi. Less known is the work of Johann Rosenmüller (1617-1684), who in his 30s was in line to become Thomaskantor in Leipzig. Accused of sodomy in 1655, along with some of the Leipzig choirboys implicated with him, he fled to Venice, where he had stayed a decade earlier as a student, apparently on the recommendation of Schütz.

Rosenmüller was employed as a trombone player at San Marco as early as 1658, remaining there for two decades during the time that Giovanni Rovetta, Francesco Cavalli, and Natale Monferrato were Maestri di Cappella. Rosenmüller composed quite a lot of Latin sacred music during these years in La Serenissima, even for use at the Ospedale della Pietà, where Vivaldi would later serve. It is also possible that some of his Latin compositions for the Catholic liturgy were composed for Duke Johann Friedrich von Braunschweig-Lüneburg, who sponsored a Catholic chapel in Hanover. Rosenmüller returned to Germany in the service of the Catholic-leaning Duke Anton-Ulrich of Brunswick-Wolfenbüttel, and Rosenmüller spent his final years in the Duke's court at Wolfenbüttel, where he is buried in the St. Johanneskirche.

Jörg Breiding leads a consistent and strong performance by members of the Knabenchor Hannover and Johann Rosenmüller Ensemble, accompanied by the equally beautiful Barockorchester L'Arco. The men of the schola give fluid renditions of the Gregorian chant antiphons and other short responses that form this Vespers service, while some soloists from the vocal ensembles are stronger than others. The longer settings of the psalms and Magnificat canticle are cut from the same cloth as Monteverdi's much more brilliant Vespro della beata vergine, no masterpiece by comparison to it but still quite beautiful.

Dance rhythms abound, and treble solo voices are often intertwined in close pairings. As expected in the Baroque period, Rosenmüller creates some effective text painting effects, as in the setting of Laudate pueri, with fast runs rising upward to lift up the poor man ("Suscitans a terra inopem") and a forlorn sinking solo melody for the poor man in the dung heap ("et de stercore erigens pauperem"). The overall good sound was captured in the Kirche des Stephansstifts in Hanover.

This disc presents one possible reconstruction using these long psalm settings, likely intended for the occasional Marian Vespers services known in Venice and elsewhere, often lasting a few hours because of the complexity of the music and great number of musicians. Another hypothetical Vespers service was put together in the recording by the always excellent Cantus Cölln, which stretches out the Vespers with ancillary pieces, while using some of the same psalm settings as found on the Hannover disc.

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