Florilegium at Wigmore Hall

The work of these three composers may be less
familiar to listeners, but Florilegium revealed the musical sophistication —
under the increasing influence of the Italian style — and emotional range of
this music which was composed during the second half of the seventeenth

Franz Tunder was born in L¸beck, a town whose most well-known musical
inhabitant is probably Tunder’s son-in-law, Dietrich Buxtehude. Buxtehude
succeeded Tunder as organist of St. Mary’s Church where he developed the
renowned free concerts, ‘Abendmusiken’, which his father-in-law had founded
and which continued for several hundred years. Few compositions by Franz Tunder
have survived: just fourteen works for organ and seventeen vocal works, plus an
instrumental sinfonia to a motet. It is thought that the vocal compositions
were not intended for performance in church — as such works had no place in
the liturgy followed at L¸beck — and were instead composed for the evening
concerts at St. Mary’s. They are evenly divided between works with German
texts and those that set Latin devotional texts, and it was two of the latter
that we heard here.

The motets ‘Da mihi, Domine’ (Give me wisdom, Lord) and ‘O Jesu
dulcissime’ (O sweet Jesus) might in fact be termed ‘sacred concertos’,
formed as they are of short movements for voice and obbligato instruments. The
text of ‘Da mihi Domine’ consists of two responds for matins, the first
recalling verses from Chapter 9 of the Book of Wisdom, and the second ‘Ne
derelinquas me’ (Do not forsake me) bearing similarities to verses 1 and 3 of
Ecclesiasticus Chapter 23. There was a gentle intimacy about this performance
by Roderick Williams and six members of Florilegium (Catherine Martin and Jean
Paterson [violin], Ylvali Zilliacus [viola], Reiko Ichise [viola da gamba],
Jennifer Morsches [cello] and Terence Charlston [chamber organ]), but also a
convincing progression through the short movements and increasing sense of
urgency and triumph.

There is an Italian influence evident in Tunder’s work: the late German
composer, singer and music theorist, Johann Mattheson, reported in 1740 that
Tunder had studied with Frescobaldi when he was in Florence from 1627 to 1630.
In the opening Sinfonia the instrumental lines entwined like voices in a
Monteverdi madrigal. Though marked ‘Adagio’, the movement had a flowing
two- then three-beats-per-bar impetus which made Tunder’s unusual use of
rests effective, the silences never staying the momentum of the phrases. The
first vocal passage, with organ accompaniment, lay quite low for Williams but
the tone was full and focused, and as the phrases rose and become more florid
the baritone imbued the melismatic appeals to the Lord, and the large vocal
leaps, with grandeur and nobility. Imitative rhythms between the voice and
organ bass line created propulsion, and this section led fluently into the more
dance-like triple time section which follows. After the commanding
pronouncement of the imperative ‘Mitte, mitte’, Williams displayed
impressive control in the movement’s long vocal lines, the rising scalic
motifs transferring seamlessly between the strings and voice. Similarly, there
was rhetorical power during the section which sets the second text, as Williams
repeated his calls to the ‘father and ruler of my life’, ‘domine
pater’; and vitality was injected by the dotted rhythms of the alternating
interpolations of the strings and voice, an interplay which became increasingly
complex — and saw the return of the expressive rests of the opening — in
the concluding sections of the motet.

‘O Jesu dulcissime’ is scored for bass voice, two violins, and continuo
— the latter provided here by organ and viola da gamba. In the brisk
Sinfonia, the close thirds of the violins were plangent and swelled
expressively; after Williams’ solo entry his vocal line was embraced by the
string lines and subsumed into the continuity of the ongoing step-wise phrases.
While there were moments when the violins almost over-powered the vocal line,
with the phrase ‘Quod per sacramentum tuum’ (What is your secret), the
melody became more decorative, allowing Williams’ baritone to bloom,
exhibiting precision and evenness during the melismatic runs. After the
‘mystery’ of the earlier sections, the fluid passagework created a spirit
of ecstatic joy which flourished in the buoyant ‘Amen’ which concludes the

Bohemian-born Heinrich Biber spent most of his life in Salzburg where he was
recognized as one of the finest violinists of his generation; as a composer, he
is best known for his series of dazzling, virtuosic violin sonatas, titled the
‘Mystery’ or ‘Rosary’ sonatas. But, Biber also wrote ‘programme’
music, including the ‘Night Watchman’ Serenade for five instruments and
bass voice, so-called because its fifth movement, Ciacona (which follows four
instrumental movements, Serenada, Adagio, Allamanda and Aria). In this Ciacona,
a ‘Night Watchman’ enters, to the pizzicato accompaniment of the upper
strings whose players mimic lutenists by placing their instruments under their
arms. As the watchman creeps through the streets he recites his nocturnal cry:
‘Lost ihr Herr’n und last euch sag’n’ (Listen folk and mark the hour,/
The bell strikes nine (ten) within the tower,/ All’s safe and all’s well,/
And praise to God the Father and to Our Lady).

There was some vigorous rhythmic articulation and exaggerated dynamic
contrasts in the opening Serenada, while the Adagio was richer and warmer in
tone; the cadences of the Allamanda were attractively decorated by organist
Terence Charlston, whose chromatic bass line was relaxed and created an easy
flow. Williams entered the platform from the stage-right rear door, effected a
slow circumambulation of the stage, before exiting left; the textual
enunciation of this night-time messenger was aptly crisp and the tone clarion.
Strong accents restored rhythmic vitality during the Gavotte, and were
complemented by fast bow strokes and rapid trills in the Retirada.

The vocal items were interspersed with instrumental works. The concert
opened with Buxtehude’s Sonata in C BuxWV266 (for 2 violins, viola da gamba
and organ) in which the somewhat reedy timbre of the Adagio was supersede by a
brightness and lucidity in the Allegro. Leader Catherine Martin was unflustered
by the bravura passagework of the Adagio and the ceaseless triplets of the
Presto, and the ensemble made expressive use of the passages in the minor
tonalities, shifts of tempo and changes of texture culminating in the solid
harmonic progressions of the final Lento. Flautist and Florilegium director
Ashley Solomon joined the instrumentalists to perform J.S. Bach’s Trio Sonata
in G Minor BWV 1038 and Georg Philipp Telemann’s Concert in D TWV51: D2, his
wooden flute adding a warm glow to the ensemble’s colour, as Charlston’s
harpsichord gave freshness and light. The withdrawn pathos and veiled
melancholy of the Adagio of Bach’s Sonata was particularly touching, and the
phrases and cadences were beautifully tapered.

If these works demonstrated the increasing sophistication of the
Austro-German Baroque style, and also the link between the early Baroque style
and the later Baroque composers such as J.S. Bach, the concluding performance
of Bach’s solo cantata ‘Ich habe genug’ left no doubt that Bach’s works
were the crowning pinnacle.

From the start Williams, performing from memory, established a devotional
mood, one of stillness, intimacy and consolation, spinning wonderfully long
lines with superb breath control as he sang of contempt for worldly life and a
yearning for death and the life beyond. In the first Aria, Alexandra
Bellamy’s oboe sang assuredly and lyrically; the string lines were smoothly
articulated, carrying the oboe on its ornamented journey. And while the
instrumental dissonances were never exaggerated, the chromaticisms and
decorations spoke of the pain suffered in the world, while Williams’ vocal
line conveyed noble forbearance, as he used the consonant ‘h’ expressively
in the eponymous utterance, ‘Ich habe genug’, (It is enough) to complement
the violins’ melodic mordant. The tempo was relaxed but controlled; indeed,
the whole cantata possessed an intensity which was never mannered but suggested
fervent introspection. The Recitativo was muscular but relaxed, the penultimate
textual line, ‘Mit Freuden sagt ich’ (With joy I say to you), powerful and
direct, particularly after the gentle yearning of the first Aria. Williams
‘crept’ into the subsequent Aria, ‘Schlummert ein. Ihr matten Augen’
(Close in sleep, you weary eyes), and the lyricism of the vocal line in this
section was greatly affecting; a more forthright tone, however, was appropriate
for the assertion, ‘Welt, ich bleibe nicht mehr hier’ (World, I shall dwell
no longer here) — such sensitivity to the text and its meaning was impressive
throughout. The flowing semiquavers of the final Vivace Aria, ‘Ich freue mich
auf meinen Tod’ (I look forward to my death), were a graceful stream, elegant
and clear — and, paradoxically, life-affirming.

Claire Seymour

Performers and programme:

Florilegium: Ashley Solomon, director. Roderick Williams,

Buxtehude: Sonata in C BuxWV266; Tunder: ‘Da mihi Domine’; Biber
Serenada a 5 “Der Nachtw‰chter”; Tunder:’ O Jesu dulcissime’; J.S.
Bach: Trio Sonata in G major BWV1038; Teleman: Concerto in D for flute, violin
and strings TWV51:D2; J.S. Bach: ‘Ich habe genug’ BWV82. Wigmore Hall,
London, Wednesday, 25th November 2015.

image_description=Roderick Williams
product_title=Florilegium at Wigmore Hall
product_by=A review by Claire Seymour
product_id=Above: Roderick Williams