German Baroque sacred music before J.S. Bach is a generally neglected field, with only very occasional performances of music beyond the big motets of Heinrich Schütz and perhaps some of the chamber cantatas of Dieterich Buxtehude. The vocal music here is in the vein of the latter, quiet and intimate. There are a couple of chamber pieces by Buxtehude's predecessor in Lübeck, Franz Tunder, and one by J.S. Bach's father's cousin Johann Christoph Bach, which gives the album its appropriate title. Schütz is represented by a selection from the Geistliche Chor-Musik, and there is an expansive and highly effective Crucifixion cantata by the almost unknown Christian Geist, and this is worth the price of admission on its own. Countertenor Iestyn Davies keeps the heat dialed down and delivers reflective performances that put the text across even if it is not in his native language, and even if he could have been a trifle further forward in the mix with the ensemble Fretwork that backs him. Fretwork also offers works by two of 17th century Germany's leading composers of instrumental music, Samuel Scheidt (one of J.S. Bach's predecessors as cantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig) and Johann Hermann Schein, whose Banchetto Musicale set the pattern for suites of dances that would also become important to J.S. Bach's work. The sacred and the secular don't coexist entirely comfortably here, but the performances are smooth and a bit hypnotic. This recording will fill holes in many collections of German music.
Iestyn Davies / Fretwork / Hugh Cutting / Silas Wollston
(CD - Signum Classics #SIGCD 684)