The Isenhagen Convent in northern Germany dates back to the year 1243 and is still in operation. Thus it has experienced all of Germany's upheavals, religious and otherwise. This unique disc attempts to trace something of the institution's musical history. It began as a monastery but soon became an all-female institution, first Catholic, then ("reluctantly," the booklet says) Protestant. At that point the residents perhaps became less cloistered, if one is to judge by the performance of the final work on the album, which includes a male singer. That final work, which takes up the last 33 minutes of the album, is called the Historia von dem Leiden und Sterben unseres HERREN und Seligmacher Ihesu Christi; it is a simple Passion setting, with an Evangelist (baritone Kai Wessel) telling the story, other voice parts for individual personages, and a four-part choral crowd. The booklet doesn't explain when this might have been composed, but it's definitely an ancestor to and a part of the tradition in which the Passion settings of Schütz, and ultimately of Bach, originated. Some of the earlier works are in Latin, sung entirely by women, and presumably date back to the institution's years as a Catholic convent; they are hymns, presumably newly composed by members of the community. These represent the medieval type of chant, in which a new simplicity was used, in the words of the booklet, to "serve the immersion in something higher." Other pieces, in German, use Martin Luther's translations into German of hymns for the entire church year. All texts are given in German and English, plus the original Latin where applicable. The booklet is a little opaque on certain matters, such as why a small group of instruments (vielle, lute, harp, psaltery, organ) is used to accompany the music, and why the particular rhythmic interpretation of chant neumes (which are pictured in the booklet) was chosen; the vocal lines are free and speechlike. But annotator Ulrike Hascher-Burger and ensemble director Ulrike Volkhardt do point out that hard evidence of performance practice is sparse. This disc views music through a unique historical lens, and it may be that for many listeners it will accomplish its stated goal of "[making] possible a deep concentration on the text."
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Historia von dem Leiden und Sterben unseres Herren und Seligmachers Ihesu Christi (Jesus-Passion)|