Saturday 7 February 2015

Valentin Molitor's Epinicion Marianum

Valentin Molitor - Musica Fiorita - Pan Classics
Valentin Molitor Epinicion Marianum; Basler Madrigalisten, Musica Fiorita, Daniela Dolci; Pan Classics
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Jan 30 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Conservative but quirky motets from a 17th century Swiss monastery

Valentin Molitor (1637 – 1713) is perhaps not a name familiar to most readers of this blog. He was a Swiss Benedictine monk and composer based initially at the monastery of St. Gallen. He was born in Rapperswil in the Canton of St Gallen and made his profession as a monk in 1656. His musical activity can be dated from 1660 and from 1672 he was organist and organ teacher at St Gallen. His works were printed by the printing works of the monastery, and in 1683 his collection Epinicion Marianum (Song of Praise for the Virgin Mary) was issued. This new disc on the Pan Classics label includes 11 motets from Molitor’s collection performed by the Basel based groups Basler Madrigalisten and Musica Fiorita directed by Daniela Dolci.

Molitor (whose name is a Latinisation of Müller or Miller) seems to have been influenced by music of the South German church of the second half of the 17th century notably the Swiss composer Johann Melchior Gletle (1626 – 1683). Molitor’s Epinicion Marianum was a collection of 18 motets for six feasts of Our Lady, two five-part motets and a solo for each feast. In style they remind me very much of the music of Heinrich Schütz (1585 - 1672). This is conservative music, Molitor was concerned to renew the musical tradition of the monastery. He was working in a difficult environment with complex music and instrumental accompaniment frowned upon. The Prince Abbot in 1681 and again in 1686 issued orders that the vespers service be sung in the relatively simple falsbordone rather than the more complex polyphony with instruments.

Presumably Molitor’s performers were monks and choir boys, in which case he must have had a talented bunch as this music is complex. There are high vocal lines, and challenging cornett parts. Though the music is relatively conservative in style there are lots of lovely little imaginative touches and some very distinctly quirky harmonies. The music is generally bright and lively, and would certainly make a fine impression at the major festal services. Quite whether it was prayerful enough for the monks, you do rather wonder. There is only one surviving copy of the printed Epinicion Marianum. In 1712 St Gallen was occupied and plundered by troops, with the monks taking refuge in Württemberg in Germany, so that fact that few of Molitor’s works survive is not surprising.

Basler Madrigalisten, chorus director Raphel Immoos, are an eight-voiced ensemble with men on the alto line. They make a lithe, bright flexible sound and are well supported by the seven instrumentalists of Musica Fiorita. I very much liked the way that the voices and instruments balanced, with quite an instrument led sound. Singers from the choir provide the solo voices (soprano Jessica Jans, alto Daniel Cabena) in the two motets for solo voice.

The booklet includes the Latin texts but no translations. Also, the notes give no indication as to which motet went with which feast, or why only 11 of the 18 motets in the collection were recorded.

This might not be great music, but it is fascinating to hear what Molitor’s quirky imagination came up with, working as he probably did in pretty much a musical vacuum. It helps that the performances here are highly skilled and very appealing.

Valentin Molitor (1637 – 1713) – Magnus Dominus [4.06]
Valentin Molitor (1637 – 1713) – Nunc dimittis servum tuum Domine [4.51]
Valentin Molitor (1637 – 1713) – Sancta et immaculate virginitas [6.41]
Valentin Molitor (1637 – 1713) – Plangite mortalis [6.00]
Valentin Molitor (1637 – 1713) – O Maria Mater Dei [5.35]
Valentin Molitor (1637 – 1713) – Viderunt omnes fines terrae [8.29]
Valentin Molitor (1637 – 1713) – Suscepimus Deus misericordiam tuam [4.21]
Valentin Molitor (1637 – 1713) – Beata es Virgo Maria [ 6.21]
Valentin Molitor (1637 – 1713) – Suscipe verbum Virgo Maria [6.22]
Valentin Molitor (1637 – 1713) – Beatissimae Virginis Mariae nativitatem [7.37]
Valentin Molitor (1637 – 1713) – Tota pulchra es amica mea [8.29]
Basler Madrigalisten
Musica Fiorita
Daniela Dolci
Recorded at Adullam chapel, Basel, February 2014
PAN CLASSICS PC10313 1CD [69.00]
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