Early Music Review

By David Stancliffe

Posted: February 10, 2018

REVIEW: Capricornus: The Jubilus Bernhardi Collection

This splendid recording of an unjustly under-recorded collection by first class musicians deserves to be widely known, and I hope that Brian Clark, who writes the brief note that accompanies the two CDs, can advertise the edition he made widely. This is beautiful music, and eminently performable.

The music first: Samuel Capricornus died at the age of 37 in 1665, so is more than a generation younger than Heinrich Schütz, who clearly thought well of him, writing after receiving his Opus Musicum  “your remarkable works have been passed on to me and they fill me with delight. Go on serving God and his Church in this fashion.” Capricornus was the son of a Lutheran pastor who had sought security for his Lutheran beliefs in what is now the Czech Republic. Having worked at the Imperial Chapel in Vienna under the Italians Giovanni Valentini and Antonio Bertali – rather a different cultural and religious milieu from home – Capricornus was appointed Kapellmeister to the Court in Stuttgart in 1657. These 24 motets from 1660 form a sequence scored for five voices (SSATB), and 5-part viol consort with continuo. In spite of the same scoring for each motet, the Jubilus Bernhardi  motets have a great variety of expressive content and a rich and characterful style of word setting. For all their underlying motet style – they are genuinely German/Bohemian versions of the seconda prattica. They have echoes of Monteverdi’s Selva Morale  as well as links to the emerging German school represented by Tunder and Kuhnau. In some sense, they occupy the same territory as the Gibbons and Tomkins verse anthems in England, alternating passages for one or more voices and instruments with full sections.

That is at any rate how they are performed by the ten singers of the Bach Choir of Holy Trinity, the Evangelical Lutheran church in New York that specialises in Bach and his Lutheran forerunners under the direction of the Cantor, Donald Meineke, with five viol players (and a continuo consisting of theorbo and keyboard) from ACRONYM. The performances are in the same league as those of Vox Luminis, and use the same vocal forces. The Sopranos are excellent: clean, clear and well-blended, and the Hautes-Contres, the Tenors and even the Basses have the same verbal dexterity. Only occasionally was I conscious of a slightly bleating tenor sound, and the bass line is coloured by a real, plummy bass with a wonderful range which is of a distinctively different timbre. But this is a class act by an ensemble of young-sounding voices and they have released recent videos on Youtube which provide the score as the visual accompaniment. From that it becomes clear that they are performing at A=440, though no details of this or the temperament at which the keyboard is tuned or the makers or provenance of the instruments is given in the extremely slender notes on the attractive card case; the liner notes themselves have nothing but the text and an English translation of Bernard of Clairvaux’s verses.

I find the music captivating in its variety, and exciting for the way in which the rhythms of the texts are captured, not just in the episodes for solo voices but in the more homophonic sections – those that are doubled by ripienists.

I have not heard any Capricornus before, but this is music that ranks in individuality with Monteverdi and Schütz, providing a fascinating insight into the musical links between Italy and Germany. Some of his works are available in facsimile from IMSLP, and range from sonatas in 8 parts to small-scale motets: Paratum cor meum  is for two treble and one bass voice, a cornetto and continuo marked for organ. Vocal works and instrumental pieces alike are imaginatively scored, the discs are well-engineered and I urge you to listen to as much as you can as soon as possible, and absorb this fascinating sound-world.

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