Thursday, January 26, 2012

Johannes Eccard: Sacred & Secular Songs

Johannes Eccard: Sacred & Secular Works 
Opella Musica
Ensemble NOEMA
Gregor Meyer, director

Although not a household name, Johannes Eccard can hardly be called an obscure composer. Active during the latter half of the 16th century,

Eccard's vocal music was held in high regard by other composers -- especially German composers, from Johann Sebastian Bach through Brahms. In his own lifetime, he was seen as the Protestant answer to Palestrina (and his music was considered just as good).

This new collection of Eccard's sacred and secular works justifies that assessment. Eccard studied with Orlando de Lassus. The secular works show Lassus' influence. Eccard sets his texts in a similar style, letting the nature of the words dictate the shape of the melody whenever possible.  And his polyphonic sacred works show the same facility for counterpoint as Lassus. The lines flow naturally, weaving in and out of each other creating marvelous patterns that sound neither academic nor contrived.

Also included are some of Eccard's works for the fledgling Protestant movement. His settings of the simple congregational hymn tunes show great imagination, while remaining true to the melody. Eccard's original hymns have simple, straight-forward patterns, but are written with rich harmonic possibilities for Eccard (and later on other composers) to explore.

Cudos to Gregor Meyer and his ensembles for presenting this music. Their performances are clean and unaffected, letting the structure of the music come through clearly. Listening to this recording, it's easy to understand why Bach closely studied Eccard's music.

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