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Fanfare Magazine: 39:2 (11-12/2015) 
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CPO 7779442

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Reviewer: James A. Altena

Here we have a great novelty. Not only is there no previous listing in the Fanfare Archive for Georg Österreich (1664–1735), but the various search engines and web sites I use for research do not turn up so much as a single previous recording of any of his music. (That’s an open invitation for some alert reader to write in and prove me wrong.) So, it would seem appropriate to begin with some basic biographical information.

Georg Österreich was born in Magdeburg. His father was a brewer; he received initial singing lessons from his godfather, Johann Scheffler, the city cantor and a pupil of Johann Theile, who recognized his precocious talent. On Scheffler’s recommendation, in 1678 Österreich enrolled in the Leipzig Thomasschule, where his brother Michael was already in attendance, and became a pupil of Johann Schelle. However, in 1680 an outbreak of the plague forced the siblings to flee the city. Georg eventually made his way to Hamburg, where he became a violist in the orchestra of the famed Gänsemarkt opera company. In 1683 he returned to Leipzig to matriculate in the university there, but returned to Hamburg in 1684, this time as a tenor soloist with the opera. Around 1686 or 1687 Theile, who had made Österreich’s acquaintance at Hamburg and become a mentor, summoned him to the service of Count Anton Ulrich of Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel in north-central Germany, a dedicated patron of the arts, as a cantor for the count’s chapel and sundry other musical duties. In 1689 Österreich advanced to the position of Hofkapellmeister of the duchy of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf, just south of Denmark, on the recommendation of its previous occupant, Johann Philipp Förtsch (concerning whom see reviews of his music by me in 35:3 and 38:2), who had taken up service as a court physician and diplomat instead. Österreich also married in the same year; his father-in-law was a man of considerable means, who settled a house and a goodly sum of money on his daughter and son-in-law. The couple eventually had four children. Österreich remained nominally in the service of the ducal court at Gottorf until 1702, though due to political and financial instability he served a stint as Kapellmeister in Coburg from 1695 to 1697. In 1701 the outbreak of the great Northern War included among its casualties the dissolution of the entire ducal court of Schleswig-Holstein-Gottorf. Somewhere between 1702 and 1704, Österreich (who persisted in using the title of Hofkapellmeister from the defunct duchy to the end of his life) made his way back to Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel; he spent the remainder of his days in Wolfenbüttel, finding employment variously as cantor of the Schlosskirche, a freelance singer, and a teacher of voice and composition.

Österreich left only a very small body of original compositions; most appear to date from his time of service at Gottorf. He is chiefly remembered today as an indefatigable archivist who assembled an extensive personal library of works by composers such as Bruhns, Buxtehude, Krieger, Lübeck, Rosenmüller, and Weckmann. This collection passed in turn into the hands of the cantor Heinrich Bokemeyer (1679–1751) and formed the basis of the renowned Bokemeyer collection of some 1,800 manuscripts now housed in the Berlin State Library. In many cases, these manuscripts are the sole surviving copies of their respective works, and a major resource for German Baroque repertoire before Bach.

The five cantatas and psalm settings presented here unsurprisingly place Österreich exactly in his stylistic time period, the generation between Buxtehude and Bach. While traces of the types of melodic lines found in the works of Rosenmüller and Schütz persist, the music has largely abandoned polyphony for monody, and there is also little in the way of fugue, counterpoint, or other devices of similar complexity. Most of the technical challenges lie in the areas of extremes of voice range, rapid passagework, and decorative ornamentation to the vocal lines. Phrasing is foursquare; instrumental lines provide discreet support and alternate with vocal ones with predictable regularity, though the settings of the texts show responsiveness to their contents and some facility at word-painting. Stylistically it all makes for pleasant but unremarkable listening, as nowhere does a distinctive or arresting compositional voice emerge. Österreich was certainly a competent craftsman, but not more.

The performances are for the most part up to the stellar standard that characterizes all performances of Manfred Cordes and his Weser-Renaissance ensemble, consisting here of a vocal quintet (two sopranos, male alto, tenor, and bass) and eight instrumentalists (two apiece on violins and violas, plus a cello, bassoon, chitarrone, and organ). Occasionally some of the singers sound a bit raw in florid passages, and the seemingly indestructible Harry van der Kamp (67 years old when this release was recorded) now has an occasional dry patch, though his artistry remains as impeccable as ever. As always, CPO provides superbly detailed booklet notes, texts in German, Latin, and English, and beautifully clear and well-balanced recorded sound. While this is not a necessary acquisition for fanciers of sacred music of the German Baroque, it will provide them with pleasure if purchased; duly recommended on that basis.



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