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CD Review

Hans Leo Hassler

In dulci jubilo

  • Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland
  • Dixit Maria
  • Missa super Dixit Maria
  • Angelus ad pastores ait
  • Quem vidistis, pastores
  • Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her
  • Christum wir sollen loben schon
  • Ein Kindelein so löbelich
  • In dulci jubilo
  • Resonet in laudibus
  • Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ
  • Beata es, virgo Maria
  • Magnificat VIII. toni
  • Beatus vir qui non abiit
  • Inter natos mulierum
  • Gratias agimus tibi
  • Qui laudat Dominum
  • Domine Deus
  • Cantate Domino
  • Allein Gott in der Höh' sei Ehr'
  • Helft mir Gotts Güte preisen
Carus CV83.396 70:30
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Hans Leo Hassler lived from 1564 to 1612; he was thus a contemporary of Schütz, Shakespeare, Byrd and Cervantes. Highly esteemed in his lifetime, the German composer is now much less well known than he deserves to be. A pupil of Lechner, Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli, Hassler also spent a year and a half in Venice. His musical style is lucid, luminous, transparent; yet controlled, more personal than provocative. The singing of the four-person Peñalosa-Ensemble (Susan Eitrich, soprano; Sebastian Mory, alto; Jörg Deutschewitz, tenor; Pierre Funck, bass), which was founded in 1996, also has these qualities here. Their enunciation is careful, precise, measured. Perhaps it's a little too studied at times; almost sanitized; lacking somewhat in spontaneity – yet fully in accord with Hassler's reserve.

It was a reserve which represented the transition which Hassler pioneered in Germany away from the Franco-Flemish tradition to sunnier, perhaps more "forward-looking" Italian polychoral innovation. Although Orlando di Lassus (1532-1594) was Hassler's model, the later composer forged a style – well in evidence on this delightful CD – full of grace, restraint and a thorough understanding, not to say exploitation, of the relationship between at times quite extrovert texts and reflective music.

At times the Peñalosa-Ensemble's approach to the metrical, proto-chorale like regularity of several of Hassler's works here lacks joy and uplift (Vom Himmel hoch [tr.11] is an example… it's neither declaimed nor fully moulded). That's not to say that it verges on the pedantic. But it does lack a little life. The aim of the singers, whose approach is always meticulously researched and considered, is to present the music as open, plain and approachable.

But the theme of this collection of two dozen or so pieces (eight of which [tr.s 1, 12, 18, 19, 20, 23, 26] have not been recorded before) is the Christmas period – from the Annunciation to New Year. One would hope for a little more "abandon", certainly more jubilation, than we have from these four nevertheless highly competent singers.

This selection of the music has variety and progression. The Parody Mass, "Super Dixit Maria" follows the simple, short song on which it's based [tr.s3, 4-8]. In addition to the narrative and celebratory works which would have been as familiar in the courts where Hassler worked in his lifetime as modern carols are these days, there is the eight-part Magnificat [tr.18] and substantial Ein Kindelein so löbelich [tr.13].

This collection is well worth investigating – especially if you're already attracted to the calm and thoughtful yet original style and world of Hassler. The technique of the Peñalosa-Ensemble lacks little, except a certain verve. The music is nevertheless enjoyable and a fitting herald of the upcoming Christmas Season.

The acoustic (of the Reutlingen-Gönningen Evangelische Kirche in southern Germany) is nicely resonant without ever unduly coloring the Ensemble's singing. It supports the intimate yet well-illuminated style of their delivery and Hassler's contained style. The booklet has background notes, which concentrate on Hassler's stature and reception – particularly in the nineteenth century; and the texts in full in (German), Latin and English.

Copyright © 2013, Mark Sealey