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Posted October 1, 2010
Nuremburg-born Hans Leo Hassler was one of many early baroque German composers who made their way to Italy to learn a thing or two. The influence Italian music had on such composers as Hieronymus Praetorius, Jakob Handl-Gallus, Heinrich Schütz was inestimable. Hassler studied in Venice and rubbed elbows with such luminaries as Giovanni Gabrieli, Orazio Vecchi and Claudio Merulo, so the Venetian polychoral tradition is a factor in much of his work. This recording (made in 1990) features Hassler's Missa "Ecce quam bonum" and a set of German language madrigal-like songs.
Hassler was a top-notch composer and his music's transparent textures and ripe melodies are delightful. There is a lightness of touch that belies Hassler's Lutheran heritage and at times, you would think the mass setting was by a lesser-known Italian master. The songs are also quite good and have a genial lyricism that is endearing. Unfortunately this recording by the Regensburger Domspatzen is a textbook exercise in rhythmically leaden and tonally blunted singing. The choir is large, (far too large for this repertoire), and in the mess of voices any sense of rhythmic drive or color is hamstrung. For some reason the Ars Musici label has been releasing lots of old recordings. This one had been "in the can" for twenty years, unfortunately somebody opened the can and let it out. For a better sense of Hassler, check out the excellent Missa "Super Dixit maria" by Herreweghe (Harmonia Mundi) or Festal Sacred Music of Bavaria (Hyperion).