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Andreas HAKENBERGER (1573/74-1627)
55 Motets from the Pelplin Tablature
Polish Chamber Choir; Musica Fiorita/Jan Łukaszewski
rec. 2013, Sanctuary of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Krosno, Poland
Latin sung texts not included, available on Naxos website
NAXOS 8.573743-44 [73:31 + 75:04]

This is a bit of a find, to say the least. Hakenberger was born in Krzemień in Pomerania, the area on the southern shore of the Baltic that straddles modern Germany and Poland, and which has belonged to the latter since 1945. This is of some importance here: the composer spent his whole career in what was regarded at the time as Poland, much of it as the choirmaster at St Mary’s in Gdansk. The release is a co-production between Naxos and Polish Radio, it features the experienced Polish choral specialist Jan Łukaszewski conducting the superlative Polish Chamber Choir (though the instrumental ensemble Musica Fiorita are based in Switzerland and have a pan-European membership) and the notes come from an exclusively Polish perspective – indeed no reference whatsoever is made to Germany. On the other hand, in the 4th edition of the New Oxford History of Music (1990) Hakenberger is described as German, and Gdansk is there referred to as Danzig. It is clear that much of this music was written for the Lutheran Church (although he was raised a Catholic), and to contextualise Hakenberger chronologically it is interesting that he was born roughly a decade before Scheidt and Schütz and it thus seems his earliest music considerably pre-dates theirs. These motets certainly seem to be a little ahead of their time.

In common with the two German composers the Italian influence here is undeniable. Agnieszka Leszczynska’s note is an invaluable guide, as there is so little easily available information about Hakenberger. She points out that as a singer in the Royal Chapel in Poland at the turn of the seventeenth century he would have been exposed to a number of Italian emigré musicians, most important of whom was Asprilio Pacelli, who led the chapel musicians at that time. The polychoral cori spezzati technique was then in vogue, and on the evidence of the 55 motets on these two amply filled discs, rapidly became Hakenberger’s style of choice. These motets were seemingly composed for the Cistercian monks at the monastery in Pelplin, 30 miles south of Gdansk. A huge collection of music, comprising some 850 works in total was compiled for the monastery soon after Hakenberger’s death, and the motets on the present recording represent his contribution to what is known as the Pelplin Tablature.

What impresses pretty well immediately about these motets is their endless variety. With two or three exceptions they mostly clock in at the two to three minute mark, they are all accompanied by a very colourful and varied ensemble, Musica Fiorita, who seem to exhibit an infinite combination of sounds, textures and colours which deepen and amplify Hakenberger’s lovely music. It is sensitively sung by the 30 or so members of the Polish Chamber Choir. They are recorded in an intimate yet resonant chapel setting, so powerful as the motets sometimes are, they never overwhelm.

Guided by the notes, it’s perhaps instructive to pick out one or two highlights from this oeuvre. There are two settings of Veni Sanctae Spiritus.The first makes use of the prayer’s middle section, and the setting, for one choir in eight parts, is one of the few monochoral items on these discs and is sung, quite beautifully, without accompaniment. The note tells us this is Hakenberger’s single excursion into the realm of ‘pervading imitation’, whereby the whole work is built by each voice repeating the same material sequentially. Taken in isolation it makes a profound impression. It is immediately followed on the first disc by a ten-part setting of the first four verses of the text, this time with a gloriously coloured and textured string and brass accompaniment. It is polychoral, and the striking repetitions of the phrase in fletu solatium at its conclusion serve to reinforce the concept of cyclical joy. It is powerful and eminently Gabrielian. These two adjacent tracks at once demonstrate Hakenberger’s versatility.

Many of the motets here appear to have been composed for specific festivals within the Christian calendar. One example is the brief ten-part setting of the carol Verbum Caro Factum Est. It pits choirs of high and low voices against each other in its first half before they join in a rich, harmonically complex and satisfying conclusion. Most of these works are short in duration but big in impact, although inevitably a potential flipside of this is a superficial impression of ‘sameness’ if one plays both discs straight through. I found this was almost completely averted by dividing each disc into three equal parts – hearing eight or nine of these pieces at a time one actually becomes more aware of Hakenberger’s fluent and always tasteful use of a vast range of compositional devices

One of the longer motets (at over five minutes) is the hymn setting Bernardus Doctor Incilitus, a clever word-play device which alternates the text of the prayer with plainsong, creating an acrostic of St Bernard’s name from the initial letters of each stanza. While this may look good on the written page, the sense of symmetry elicited by this recording of the music is tangible, while the melodic and harmonic content is impressive and affecting, especially as the alternate non-plainsong verses increase the texture by one voice at a time, so what starts as a motet in five parts ends up with eight. The judicious accompaniment of theorbo and strings here is a joy in itself. The longest work of all at just over six minutes is the two-choir Magnificat sexti toni which concludes the second disc. Here Hakenberger alternates homophony and plainsong. No ingenious word play here, simply an immaculate arrangement of text, layered choral sound, and rousing instrumental accompaniment which accumulates and results in a work of great power, an appropriately majestic conclusion to a fascinating set.

I’ve merely scratched the surface of its content by discussing a few of the numbers which particularly impressed me, but lovers of the likes of Schütz and the Gabrielis need not hesitate; they will find considerable riches here, in performances of palpable commitment which the engineers of Polish Radio have bathed in appropriately sepulchral sound.

Richard Hanlon

Exsultate Deo a 8 [1:57]
Ad Te Domine Levavi a 6 [2:33]
Domine Quinque Talenta a 8 [2:14]
Vidi Speciosam a 12 {3:22]
Hodie Christus Natus Est [2:40]
Angelus ad Pastores a 8 [2:20]
Cantate Domino Canticum Novum [2:58]
Verbum Caro Factum Est a 10 [2:17]
Ecce Quam Bonum a 8 [2:23]
Dulcis Lesu a 8 [3:26]
O Bone Lesu a 10 [3:33]
Elegi Abiectus a 8 [2:48]
Voce Mea ad Dominum Clamavi a 6 [2:30]
Exaltabo Te Domine a 8 [2:16]
Congratulamini Mihi Omnes a 8 [3:13]
Surgens Iesus a 9 [2:23]
Christus Resurgens a 10 [2:57]
Ibant Apostoli Gaudentes a 8 [2:17]
Stabunt Iusti a 8 [2:07]
Fulgebunt Iusti a 7 [2:04]
Ego Flos Campi a 9 [2:11]
Nigra Sum a 12 [2:04]
Veni Dilecte Mi a 8 [2:01]
Exsultate Iusti a 6 [2:33]
Veni Sancte Spiritus (1) a 8 [2:41]
Veni Sancte Spiritus (2) a 10 [2:53]
O Lux Beatissima a 10 [2:06]
Spiritus Domini a 12 [2:17]
Hodie Completi Sunt a 12 [2:14]

O Sacrum Convivium a 7 [2:34]
Te Deum Patrem a 10 [2:06]
Benedicamus Patrem a 12 [2:37]
Hodie Simon Petrus a 8 [2:50]
Portae Ierusalem a 7 [3:03]
Ad Te Levavi a 9 [2:55]
Bernardus Doctor Incilitus a 5 [5:16]
Deus qui Beatae Annae a 6 [2:30]
Diffusa Est Gratia a 8 [2:14]
Domine in Virtute Tua a 9 [3:05]
Cantabo Domino a 8 [2:45]
Gloria Tibi Domine a 8 [1:14]
Vulnerasti Cor Meum a 12 [3:14]
Veni in Hortum Meum a 8 [2:34]
Osculetur Me a 9 [2:19]
Beatus Laurentius a 8 [2:35]
Surge, Propera a 8 [2:23]
Salve Regina a 8 [3:37]
Beatus Vir qui Suffert a 10 [1:56]
Benedicite Dominum a 10 [1:59]
Beati Omnes a 12 [3:01]
Benedicam Dominum a 8 [2:57]
Deus Noster Refugium a 9 [3:19]
Domine Deus Meus a 7 [2:18]
Deus Canticum Novum a 12 [3:16]
Et Exsultavit a 8 [6:14]


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