Johann Eccard was one of the most prominent composers around 1600. Born in 1555, Eccard grew up with the sounds of the Protestant song. In 1571 he joined the Bavarian Court Chapel, and during this time he became acquainted with the vast repertoire of Catholic sacred music as well as the secular music at this pleasure-loving court.
One of the masters who gave him valuable instructions was none other than Orlando di Lasso, the chapel master, and under his tuition Eccard's genuine talents started to emerge. This fruitful period was followed by a return to Muhlhausen, after which he managed to secure a post under Jakob Fugger in Augsburg. It was here that he wrote the five-part Mass we find on this recording. By now Eccard had found his place in Catholic sacred music, but further advances in his career were hindered because of his Protestant faith.
The composer found a new musical haven in Königsberg in 1579, where the Margrave of Ansbach appointed Eccard to the directorship of the Protestant Choral Society, a group founded by the composer himself. Many of his polyphonic sacred songs were written for this Society, and these met with widespread circulation in published anthologies, such was the beauty of these pieces.
Eccard's specialty was the Cantional Motets, in which he fused the motet style with melodies of song character, a genre much admired by Brahms two hundred years later. This superb issue presents his only mass extant in full, a piece full of expressive writing and contrapuntal choral splendour, and 15 motets, which, despite their brevity, are replete with moments of great limpid beauty and little-structured patterns of sublime polyphony.
Performances alternate between gentle fluency and shapely grandeur, and the singing is consistently supple. A wonderful disc, focusing on an excellent if somewhat less famous composer from the 16th century. Notes and sound are first-rate.
Copyright © 2011, Gerald Fenech