Weckmann: Sacred concertos; Partitas II & III; Toccatas IV & V

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COMPOSERS: Weckmann
LABELS: Chandos Chaconne
WORKS: Sacred concertos; Partitas II & III; Toccatas IV & V
PERFORMER: Susan Gritton (soprano), Paul Agnew, Julian Podger (tenor), Stephen Varcoe (baritone), Robert Woolley (organ, harpsichord); Purcell Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 0646
Weckmann wrote these Sacred Concertos for voices and instruments to mourn the devastation of the plague which broke out in Hamburg in 1663. They are astonishing pieces, subtly structured and with striking setting of words, treated individually, in a madrigalian fashion, rather than reflecting their cumulative meaning or affect. So ‘weep not’ evokes winding strings of poignant chromatic harmony; Susan Gritton keens over a repeated semitone in an outpouring of grief for Jerusalem/Hamburg; ‘the root of David’plumbs Stephen Varcoe’s low C sharp. Two of the three concertos are for alto, tenor and bass, Agnew especially gripping, singing quietly in his highest register. A sinfonia, with strangely capricious harmony from a dense string ensemble including three gambas, reflects Zion forsaken, while Weckmann celebrates deliverance from the plague in bounding triple metre and an ‘amen’ over a dancing, hypnotic ground. Voices blend warmly without losing distinctiveness, solo strings create thrilling sonority.

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Whether or not all the keyboard music here is by Weckmann (New Grove questions its authenticity), the two Toccatas are wayward, improvisatory pieces on which Robert Woolley imposes a thoughtful sense of logic, while two keyboard Suites in the style of Froberger dance with charm. A revelatory programme, excellently recorded and highly recommended. George Pratt