American Record Guide

REVIEW: Johann Rosenmüller in Exile

Johann Rosenmüller (c. 1618-84) was an extraordinarily fine composer—highly regarded by his contemporaries, including Telemann—but he had his share of difficulty. After escaping from prison in Leipzig on charges of sodomy, he found employment in Venice. The motets and sonatas on this release were composed in his period of self-exile, and it is called “Johann Rosenmüller in Exile”. 

This is the fourth recording of Rosenmüller’s music I have reviewed since 2011, and I have not been disappointed yet. In fact, I was so taken by Ensemble Masques’s performance of sonatas from his 1682 Nuremberg collection (ATMA 2660; Sept/Oct 2013) that I soon performed some of them with my own ensemble. This release by Acronym includes sonatas in E minor (No. 8), G minor (No. 4), and A minor (No. 6) from yet another of Rosenmüller’s publications—the Sonate da camera (Venice, 1667), and I am happy to report that they are as exquisite as his later sonatas. Like them they are composed in a single, multi-sectional movement. The major difference between them is that this earlier collection consists of a series of dances, as one would expect of chamber sonatas. Their charm, therefore, stems from frequent transitions from one dance-inspired affect to another, to say nothing of the gorgeous harmonies and expressive use of dissonance. 

In the capable hands of these excellent musicians, they simply could not sound better. Acronym’s 2016 release of sonatas by Krieger, Bertali and the like was brilliant (Olde Focus 906; Sept/Oct 2016). And their recording of Johann Christoph Pezel’s Alphabet Sonatas was one of my Critics’ Choices for 2014 (Olde Focus 903; July/Aug 2014). 

The motets are as beautiful as the sonatas. The program includes Domine Cor Meum Jam Ardet Impatiens, Aude Quid Times Gens Christo Dicata, Salve Mi Jesu, Pater Misericordiae, and Ascendit Invictissimus Salvator. Martha H. Brundage explains in her notes that Rosenmüller’s motets usually begin with a sonata; there follows a sequence of arias and recitatives alternating with short instrumental ritornellos. Adding the voice to the string ensemble seems to further unleash Rosenmüller’s creative genius, to explore new realms of expression distinguished by sudden shifts of rhythm, harmony, and flights of fiuratura in both the voice and violins. Jesse Blumberg’s rich baritone makes an ideal partner for the violin playing of Johanna Novom, Edwin Huizinga, Adriane Post, and Beth Wenstrom. Texts and notes are in English.