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Weynacht Gesaenge  (Baroque Advent and Christmas Music) 
Stimmwerck [Franz Vitzthum (countertenor); Klaus Wenk, Gerhard Hölzle (tenors); Marcus Schmidl (bass-baritone)] with guests: Nele Gramß (soprano), Christoph Eglhuber (lute, percussion), Michael Ebert (organ), Reinhild Waldek (harp)
rec. 11-13 April 2012, Himmelfahrtskirche München-Sendling, Germany. DDD
German and Latin texts and German translations of Latin included but no English translations.

Reviewed as lossless download from eclassical.com, without booklet (also available in mp3 and from dealers on CD) also for streaming by subscribers and as lossless download, with pdf booklet, from classicsonlinehd.com.

We seem to have missed this when it was released in 2012.  It offers an interesting anthology of Lutheran Christmas music from the generation before Buxtehude and Bach, interspersed with the ‘O’ Antiphons sung at the end of Advent in the Roman rite and concluding with a Latin work by a composer who died in the earliest years of the Reformation.

Don’t expect jollifications: this is by and large a set of considered performances.  Even Puer natus in Bethlehem, which is often sung with quite a swing in Latin or in its German version, Ein Kind geborn zu Bethlehem (instrumental version, track 6), receives a fairly sedate performance here if compared with Paul McCreesh’s recording (Prętorius Christmas Mass, DG Archiv 4791757, mid-price – review of earlier release) or on the equally wonderful John Butt recording of Bach’s Magnificat and Cantata No.63, with other music for Christmas Vespers (Linn CKD469 – Recording of the Month).

The McCreesh Christmas Mass CD gets played pretty often every year and I’m sure that the Butt recording will be joining it just as often in future.  For more pensive occasions, however, the Christophorus recording is also very good of its kind.  The beautifully delicate singing of the opening O Jesulein zart, a cradle song familiar in English as ‘O little one sweet’, sets the tone.

I could have wished for slightly more forthright singing in the antiphon O clavis David (track 2) and, indeed, in the other ‘O’ antiphons, but track 3, Fit porta Christi pervia (‘The gate is made open to Christ’) is sung about as forthrightly as you might wish – almost what I call the ‘jolly japes’ school of renaissance singing – while on track 4 Hassler’s Mit Ernst, o Menschenkinder receives another sensitive performance befitting words which exhort mankind seriously to prepare for the coming of Christ.

There’s some of the familiar here: Es ist ein Ros entsprungen and In dulci jubilo were almost mandatory for such a collection but the latter is given as a harp solo (track 25) and it’s hard to call Es ist ein Ros stale when it’s as beautifully sung as on track 9.  There’s plenty of the unfamiliar, too, including music for Advent as well as Christmas.  Some of the composers, such as Leonhard Paminger (Track 10) were not known to me even as names – he seems to be a uniquely Stimmwerck discovery.

Having heard the one work here, however, I turned to Stimmwerck’s complete album of sacred vocal music by Paminger, with David Erler (countertenor) as their guest on this occasion.  Apart from a rather close recording, which I see was Johan van Veen’s only objection, too – review – these are splendid performances of some very worthwhile music (Christophorus CHR77331 – from classicsonlinehd.com, lossless with pdf booklet).  There’s a brief click early on track 1 which is also present on the Qobuz version of this album and thus, I presume, generic.

The performances by the regular members of Stimmwerck and their ‘guests’ contribute to a very enjoyable collection.  With the archaic spelling of their name this group seems tailor-made for music of this period.  I’m a bit less sure about the cod archaism of the German title of the album but it’s harmless fun.  Of an earlier Stimmwerck recording which he liked Johan van Veen noted that the upper line was a little stretched – review – on this recording the guest appearance of Nele Gramß (soprano) relieves the pressure on Franz Vitzthum, though she’s a little under-employed.  I’d have liked to hear more of her.

The recording is good but it benefits from a slight volume lift for greatest impact – at normal levels the solo singing of the plainsong antiphons in particular sounds a little distant.

Somewhere along the line the track details from all download and streaming sources indicate that the first track, O Jesulein zart, is by Samuel Scheidt ‘after Bach’s BWV493’.  That can hardly be, since Scheidt was almost a century before Bach’s time: it’s actually Scheidt’s music on which Bach later based his own setting.  There’s an odd typo: Dies est lętitię is correctly spelled among the texts, but Dies est lętitia in the track listing is meaningless – this in a booklet which takes Martin Luther, no less, to task, for naming his Christmas composition Von (sic!) Himmel hoch .  Granted that we usually know it as Vom Himmel hoch, the words set by Prętorius and others, but Luther might have known what he was doing: he is widely regarded as having helped to fix modern High German.

English listeners without a good knowledge of German will find no help with the texts in the booklet: they are all in German or in Latin with German translations.  There are, however, helpful notes in English as well as German.

At $11.39 the eclassical download is marginally less expensive than classicsonlinehd’s £7.99 but it comes without the booklet which the latter provides.  Classicsonlinehd also provide an extra, thirty-first track, not listed in the booklet and not on the emusic download or the Qobuz streamed version – a sixteenth-century setting – by Cornelius Freundt? – of the words Geboren ist uns der heilige Christ.  It’s so well done, with typically crisp ensemble from Stimmwerck, that it’s a pity that it isn’t included on the CD or the other download versions.

This is mostly music for a contemplative Christmas rather than a knees-up, but there are any number of recordings of the livelier baroque music for the season, often with brass accompaniment.  There’s plenty of room in my book for both.

Brian Wilson

Samuel SCHEIDT (1587-1654 ) O Jesulein zart [2:31]
Gregorian Antiphon O clavis David [1:05]
Anonymous Fit porta Christi pervia [2:10]
Hans Leo HASSLER (1564-1612) Mit Ernst, o Menschenkinder [3:32]
Gregorian Antiphon O Adonai [SW] 0:52
Esaias REUSNER Senior (c.1600-c.1670) Puer natus in Bethlehem (Lute solo) [1:15]
Anonymous Gaude, gaude lętare [1:40]
Gregorian Antiphon O rex gentium [0:47]
Michael PRĘTORIUS (1571-1621) Es ist ein Ros entsprungen [2:46]
Leonhard PAMINGER (1495-1567) Kaiser Augustus leget an [2:10]
Michael PRĘTORIUS Den die Hirten lobten sehre [2:22]
Gregorian Antiphon O Emmanuel [0:47]
Michael PRĘTORIUS Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (harp solo) [3:14]
Der Morgenstern ist aufgedrungen [1:43]
Gregorian Antiphon O Sapientia [0:55]
Petrus SCINTILLARIUS (16th.century) Nox imminet [2:29]
Johann HUEGEL (ca. 1510-1584/85); Hans Leo HASSLER Dies est lętitię /Ein Kindelein so löbelich [3:40]
Leonhart SCHRÖTER (1532-1601) Joseph, lieber Joseph mein [1:41]
Esaias REUSNER Senior Joseph, lieber Joseph mein (lute solo) [1:53]
Gregorian Antiphon O Oriens [SW] 0:51
Anonymous Resonet in laudibus (organ solo) [1:24]
Andreas RASELIUS (1561/63-1602); Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630) Christum wir sollen loben schon [1:27]
Anonymous Christum wir sollen loben schon (organ solo) [1:49]
Johann Hermann SCHEIN; Melchior VULPIUS (ca. 1570-1615); Andreas RASELIUS; Johannes ECCARD (1553-1611) Nun komm der Heiden Heyland [3:35]
Esaias REUSNER Senior In dulci jubilo (lute solo) [1:56]
Anonymous (Thomas POPELIUS ?) Virga Jesse [1:55]
Michael PRĘTORIUS; Johann Hermann SCHEIN Vom Himmel hoch [3:00]
Gregorian Antiphon O Radix Jesse [0:51]
Gregorian Sequence Als der gütige Gott [4:39]
Thomas STOLTZER (1480/85-1526) O admirabile commercium [4:16]


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