Sacred Songs of Sorrow

Signum Classics SIGCD018

'The best of the year', from International Record Review, 12/ 2000


An imaginative programme of sacred settings with particularly colourful use of viols in the accompaniments … The Charivari Agréable group from Oxford plays all this music with considerable intensity and expressive warmth, with Rodrigo del pozo, a high tenor (high enough to pop up quite often well into treble regions), who is soft in timbre, clear in diction and both unassuming and eloquent in manner. The result is a disc decidedly out of the ordinary.

International Record Review

A lot of music by great composers has come my way in the first months of International Record Review's existence – Tallis, Byrd and William Lawes among the English, Dufay, Josquin and Lassus among the continentals – and some of it in more than competent performances. But at the risk of sounding precious (heavens, perhaps even elitist!), I'm going to plump for a disc devoted to a bunch of virtually unknown Germans of the mid-seventeenth century. In spite of its rather forbidding title, 'Sacred Songs of Sorrow', performed by Charivari Agreable Simfonie with the Chilean-born tenor as their sensitive and mellifluous soloist, was a revelation that I would like to share with as many people as possible. The music itself is surprisingly varied; Baroque composers such as Erasmus Kindermann, Christian Geist and Bach's cousin (once removed), Johann Christoph, were open to many different stylistic winds. What is consistent here is a kind of impassioned intimacy that I found – and still find on re-hearing – very attractive indeed, and not in the least glum.

Cathedral Music, 10/ 2000It is humbling, in listening to this collection, to realise how unfamiliar I still am with the music of the 17th century. Not so long ago (well 20 years or so) it seemed like vast areas of the early and mid Baroque remained in darkness, with few editions or recordings. Matters have improved considerably, but still Charivari Agreable is able to put together an admirable recital of works by composers who must be almost unknown to the average listener.

The focus here is on the works of an elegiac or contemplative nature from Germany, scored for a consort of low viols. The vocal works (interspersed with instrumental numbers) contemplate the passion, and the disc is structured as a continuing narrative rather than simply a handful of pieces. Kindermann's Es war aber narrrates the events of the desposition from the cross and burial of Christ, followed by a strophic poem contemplating its meaning (with a musical setting notable for its chromaticism). The emotional crux must certainly be J.C. Bach's Ach, dass ich Wassers g'nug hatte, which sounds like a masterpiece in the gripping performance it receives here. The Fischer Lamento that follows hints, with its major mode, at the Resurrection, and the Geist De funere ad vitam makes this explicit. Masterful programming.

This is my first exposure to Rodrigo del Pozo on disc. The booklet describes him as a tenor, but my ears would call him haute-contre, that is, a high tenor who moves effortlessly into the head voice at the top. He produces a lovely and particularly expressive tone, and brings out all the emotional depth of these dark pieces. The viols of Charivari are on an equally high level.

A moving collection, worthy of praise and a spot in your library.

Fanfare (USA)

There is a saying that one can be happy in one's misery. I was certainly thrilled to wallow in the mournful music presented in this disc. These works are mainly by German composers of the generation between Schütz and J.S. Bach, and they both exhibit the influence of the earlier master and foreshadow the style of the later one. The Chilean-born tenor Rodrigo del Pozo's singing is simply gorgeous, with an emotional fervour and luminosity of tone highly reminiscent of the counter-tenor René Jacobs. The ensemble, Charivari Agréable Simfonie, produce a deeply sonorous timbre superior to the thin sound of many other early music groups, and their elegant phrasing makes their instruments sing. The highlight of the disc is the spectacular Ach, daß ich Wassers g'nug hätte ('Oh, that I had tears enough'), whose dramatic intensity and surprising turns of phrase are well matched by the dynamic control and timing of del Pozo and the ensemble. The material on this disc might appeal more to the connoisseur than the general music lover. Nonetheless, this is a recording of the highest calibre and, in spite of its title, delivers exquisite pleasure.

Lute News, 9/ 2000

This CD presents sacred laments by composers of 17th and early 18th century Europe, setting Latin or German texts, and employing as accompanying instruments the lower members of the viol family; a practice encouraged by the migration of bass viol virtuosi from England into Germany and the Low Countries. Harpsichord, organ and Lynda Sayce's warm-voiced theorbo take turns to add colour and definition to the instrumental backdrop, which proves the perfect complement to the high tenor voice of Rodrigo del Pozo – a true counter-tenor if ever there was one, who joins tenor and alto ranges with admirable smoothness and expressiveness.

Schütz and Monteverdi lurk in the shadows of much of this music, the latter especially in the opening 'Dum tot carminibus'‚ by Joseph Kindermann. Two other pieces grabbed me particularly. First 'Es war aber an der Statte'‚ by Christian Geist. The opening recitative, setting a passage from St John's gospel is followed by eight verses, all employing the same chromatically falling phrases, lamenting the death of Christ; the effect is mesmerising, and in spite of eight repetitions, increasingly affecting. Then 'Ach, dass ich Wassers g'nug hatte'‚ by J.C.Bach, is a startling outpouring of grief at the personal realisation of sin. It is a searing oil-painting of a piece, in which a deathly tension in the viols at the beginning rises and bursts into heart-rending sights; the use of sequences to express increasing grief is masterly – an academic device turned to gold. The vivid word and phrase painting (with sighs echoed by the baroque violin) remind one of Purcell; the vicious pounding towards the end which suggests flagellation seems close to Verdi, while the key change as the viols enter for the repeat at the end of the singer's long diminuendo on the word 'zorn'‚ is pure Schubert. The magnificence of the material is matched by the performances.

BBC Music Magazine, 6/2000

The best-known piece in this affecting programme is J. Christoph Bach's lament … Full of bold and heart-rending harmonies by the most expressively gifted of JS Bach's forebears, it never fails to touch my innermost sensibilities. Del Pozo discloses many subtle nuances in his singing, while the instrumental playing – the gamba part is wonderfully rich – is full of rhetorical gesture, imaginative and sonorous. This is, for me at least, the highpoint in a fascinating, emotionally satisfying programme, several of whose songs were quite new to me. A rewarding release.

International Record Review, 7/ 2000

What a pleasure, when a disc whose composers and performers (mea culpa) are almost completely unfamiliar, turns out to contain a whole string of delights. Composers first. All but one belongs to the German generations between Schütz and J.S.Bach, which makes them contemporaries of Froberger and Buxtehude. The surprising thing is to find that some at least are as fine as those two great but undervalued talents. Not that they all come out of the same stylistic stable. The prolific J.E.Kindermann, for instance, studied in Italy before settling in Nuremberg, and there are strong reminiscences of Monteverdi in the Latin elegy recorded here.

Johann Fischer, on the other hand (not the same as the better-known J.C.F.Fischer or the rather earlier Prussian composer Johannes Fischer), served as one of Lully's copyists in Paris before returning to Germany and eventually seeking his fortune in Scandinavia and Poland. For me, the most rewarding discovery of all was Christian Geist, who apparently worked in Stockholm between 1675 and 1685. His two well-contrasted pieces on this disc (both of them published in Volume 48 of the Erbe deutscher Musik series) are gems, particularly the meditation on St.John's account of the burial of Christ, with its haunting chromatic refrain.

The general character of this music is rich and sombre, as one might expect from the disc's collective title, and this is emphasized by the make-up of the oddly named Charivari Agréable Simfonie. This Oxford-based group has a nucleus of violone, theorbo and keyboards, the latter played by its director, Kah-Ming Ng. On this disc they are supplemented by three more low strings and occasionally a Baroque violin. Blend and intonation are impeccable and the variety of the music itself prevents monotony.

The one composer here who doesn't belong to the German Baroque tradition is Joseph-Hector Fiocco, one of a family of Italian musicians who had settled in Brussels before he was born in 1703. Like Francois Couperin, whose music he certainly knew, he composed a set of Lamentations (Leçons de ténèbres) for the three days that end Holy Week; unlike Couperin's they survive complete. What we have here is the first of the three lessons for the second day (liturgically specified for Good Friday, but sung at this time on the preceding day). Here, as throughout the whole record, the Chilean-born tenor Rodrigo del Pozo sings with mellifluous tone and great sensitivity to the words. All the same I rather wish this particular item had been given to a soprano, as I'm sure Fiocco intended: it would have helped to point up the very real difference between this and all the rest of the music on the record. No matter. It's still a disc that I can recommend wholeheartedly to anyone with a taste for Baroque music and a willingness to explore its byways.

BBC Radio 3, CD Review

Weeping, wailing and gnashing of chromatic teeth from J.C. Bach's 'Ach, dass ich Wassers' sung by Rodrigo del Pozo with Charivari Agréable Simfonie. That's new this month from Signum on a CD called 'Sacred Songs of Sorrow' … you'll be shedding tears by the end of it; there are also some things of great beauty hidden away here.

Viola da Gamba Mitteilungen No. 42 (Switzerland)

Unfortunately this CD recommendation comes a little late for Easter, but this intimate and sensitive music can be enjoyed all year round. This remarkable and recommendable record, played by the young Oxford ensemble Charivari Agréable, shows sacred funeral music from the late 16th- and early 17th-century. And what other instrument than the gamba could be more suitable for this kind of melancholic music ?

The compilation of pieces for this CD follows the Easter story, starting with 2 funeral pieces...followed by Jeremiah's lamentations from the old testament by JH Fiocco … and then the telling of the story of the crucifixion and burial of Christ by Chr. Geist, and at the end an Alleluja. In between pieces by Schedlich, the better known Lament Ach, dass ich Wassers gnug hätte by J CHr Bach, and a fugue for harpsichord, and a Lament by J. Fischer.

The ensemble produces a very integrated and well-balanced sound, beautifully nuanced and articulated, which gives this sensitive music the right expression. Nevertheless, the musicians play very expressively, with regard to dynamics, phrasing and melodic line. In this way they lay a aural foundation on which Rodrigo del Pozo can stand without neglecting the the dialogue between voice and instruments.

The singer could have done more to focus on this dialogue. Despite his very beautiful tenor voice, he relies too heavily on a manner of singing (especially in the first piece) which is a little too affected focuses on beauty of the sound, with a little too much vibrato for my taste. One also notices his lack of articulating consonants clearly in the German pieces, unlike the instruments.

And especially in the piece Ach dass ich Wassers gnug hätte, one has to compare here with the harmonia mundi CD with A. Scholl and the ensemble Concerte di Viole. I personally prefer the simpler version of Scholl to the dramatic interpretation of del Pozo. Also the clear integration of the violin into the viol sound is in my opinion not so ideal.

Despite these few minus points most pieces on this CD work extremely well, and are played most successfully and stirringly. This version of Fiocso's Lamento (originally for Soprano and 2 celli, played here on viols) is especially enjoyable, as is Nicolai's Sonata a tre viol da gamb: The sonorous and homogenous sound of the viols, who are also able to articulate in technically more demanding places, creates, together with the organ and the theorbo the perfect ensemble sound. A beautiful ending to a truly recommendable recording.

Rating: 5/5 - A rare pleasure

Add to the growing list of admirable recent recordings of seventeenth century German vocal music, this offering by the instrumental ensemble Charivari Agreable with tenor Rodrigo del Pozo. Consisting primarily of works by lesser known composers, this recording would deserve a place in the collection of lovers of this art regardless of the performances. Happily, these are first rate. Rodrigo del Pozo is new to me, and his voice is certainly hard to categorize. Never mind. He is a wonderfully sensitive musician with great feeling for the texts and the style. The prominence of viols in the ensemble lends a generally dark timbre which is appropriate to the settings and which complements del Pozo's plaintive tone.

Rating: 5 - The best solo recital in years

This is the first solo recital from the young Chilean tenor Rodrigo del Pozo. It really deserves your attention. The program is very well chosen. These are songs by some of the "lesser" German composers - hence they are not frequently recorded. The relative obscurity of these songs is reason number one to buy this CD. Reason number two: the singer. Rodrigo del Pozo started his early music career as a lutenist. It so happened, however, that in 1990 he won a scholarship to study voice with the celebrated British tenor Nigel Rogers, and so, luckily for all of us, Rodrigo switched to singing. Among tenors, Rodrigo's voice is one of the most beautiful and easily the most unusual. Not only is his voice meltingly sweet and luminous, but it also boasts an unusually wide range, spanning two adjacent registers - alto and tenor - with no register break. The pieces on this disc (some of which are in the low alto range) show Rodrigo's amazing vocal versatility. All of the pieces here are sung with elegant graces and, even more importantly, with keen attention to the meaning of the text. The most effective piece - by any measure - is Johann Christoph Bach's Ach daß ich Wassers g'nug hätte, exploring the full amplitude of human sorrow and hope, from the brooding beginning ("Oh, if only I had enough tears to lament my failings), to the emphatically pounding syllables on "denn der Herr hat mich voll Jammers gemacht," to the slowly dying note on "Am Tage seines grimmigen Zorns," to the lyrically floating repetition of the first stanza. The result is haunting. I can practically guarantee you that this piece will be etched in your memory for ever.

Compact Disc Classics (Italy)

Personalmente preferisco la musica dell'Ottocento e del Novecento, tuttavia debbo ammettere de essere stato affascinato dalla suggestione di questo CD che, nonostante sia destinata ad un pubblico attento e amante del periodo e del genere,, potrà avvincere molti ascoltari. Indubbiamente occorre porre l'accento sulla particolarità del programma che raggruppa compositori poco noti appartenenti al Barocco come Kindermann, Fiocco, Schedlich, Geist e Johann Christoph Bach, uno dei più importanti tra I componenti la famiglia Bach prima del grande Johann Sebastian. Kindermann venne ritenuto, alla sua epoca, tra I musicisti più conosciuto di quanto nn lo sia ora; di suo possiamo ascoltare il numero maggiore di pezzi, tra I quali la Drifache Fuga destinata al solo organo e la Symphonia scritta per soli strumenti ad arco accompagnati dall'organo.

Del musicista Fiocco è particolarmente suggestivo il brano intitolato Lamentatio Prima … in cui l'associazione della viola con gli 'affetti' del lamento [vedere fact file in questa pagina] è tipica della musica luterana di questo periodo e deriva dall'accompagnamento degli strumenti a corda nelle Lamentazioni della opere italiene mentre emerge l'espressività vocale del bravissimo Rodrigo del Pozo. Il suo suono è in generale di rara bellezza e non è facile sottrarsi al fascino del suo fraseggio intenso e chiaro né alla sua interpretazione. Del Pozo eseque ogni autore con impeccabile appropriatezza stilistica dando prova di possedere una buona tecnica con emissione ben sostenuta, morbida e omogenea lungo tutta la sua ragguardevole gamma, senza eccessive ostentazioni. Il programma di questo CD è un tributo ad un repertorio assai raramente frequentato da composito ed interpreti, ma dotato di struggente bellezza timbrica ed emotiva a cui contribuisce una ripresa sonora degna delle maggiorietichette sul mercato internazionale. In conclusione appare ottima la scelta del repertorio musicale come la sua realizzazione sia interpretativa che tecnica. Commento tecnico. Ripresa sonora ricca de dettagli e con un ottimo equilibrio tra voce solista e strumenti.

A:9 T:10

Personally I prefer the music of the 1800s and 1900s to that of the 1600s, yet I must admit to being enchanted by this disc, which, although aimed at a specialist audience which is fond of the epoch and the genre, could

enthrall many listeners. Certainly I must emphasize the unusual programme which brings together little known Baroque composers, such as Kindermann, Fiocco, Schedlich, Geist and Johann Christoph Bach, one of the most important members of the Bach family prior to the great Johann Sebastian. Kindermann was judged, in his day, among the more esteemed musicians, and was better known then than in our time; from him we hear the largest number of pieces, including the Drifache Fuga assigned to solo organ, and the Symphonia written for single strings accompanied by the organ.

Especially evocative is the piece entitled Lamentatio Primo du Jeudi Saint from the musician Fiocco, in which the association of the viols with the Lamento 'affects' (...) typical of Lutheran music of this period, derives from the string accompaniment of lamentations in Italian works, (and) from which emerges the espressive voice of the excellent Rodrigo del Pozo. His sound is generally of unusual beauty and it is not easy to escape the fascination of either his intense and clear phrasing or of his interpretation. Del Pozo performs each composer's (work) in impeccably appropriate style, proving his possession of a fine technique with well sustained sound, delicate and even throughout his considerable range, without excessive display.

The programme of this CD is a tribute to a repertory too rarely heard from composers and performers, but endowed with melting tonal and emotional beauty, aided by a recorded sound worthy of a major label on the international market. In conclusion the selection of musical repertory seems excellent, like its musical and technical realization. Technical comment: richly detailed recorded sound and with an excellent balance between solo voice and instruments.

Musica (Italy), 9/2000

La lettura del gruppo Charivari Agréable (che agisce sotto la direzione di Kah-Ming Ng) è di prim'ordine. Sofisticata ed elegantissima la resa d'insieme grazie soprattutto ad un fraseggio dettagliato e omogeneo nel respiro del gesto musicale. I perfetti equilibri sonori delle viole da gamba, spesso sostenute dal continuo di tiorba e organo, reescono ad essere al contempo stimolanti per cuore ed intelletto.

Su questo impianto strumentale, nei pezzi vocali, emerge per peculiarità timbrica la voce del cileno Rodrigo del Pozo. Invano, nell'esaustivo booklet che correda il disco, l'ascoltatore cercherà una definizione precisa della vocalità singolare di questo interprete dale doti di raffinatissima elega

From Helen Garrison, Producer, BBC Arts and Classical Music Radio

I'm just listening to your new CD with Charivari Agréable and I think it's FABULOUS!!!!!!! I'm wallowing in the wonderful JC Bach piece as I write this and it's blowing my mind into pieces!

I think you should come onto In Tune as guests ASAP. Do you have any gigs coming up? Has the disc had good reviews? It's fantastic - the best thing I've heard for ages. I really like the tenor singer as well - I haven't come across him before.


Fischer: Lamento; J Chr Bach: Ach, dass ich Wassers gnug haette; C Geist: De funere; Es war aber an der Staette; JM Nicolai: Sonata; JH Fiocco: Lamentatione Jeremiae; Kindermann: Symphonia; Dum tot carminibus

Rodrigo del Pozo - tenor; Claire Salaman - baroque violin; Susanne Heinrich, Susanna Pell, Sarah Groser, Reiko Ichise - viols; Lynda Sayce - theorbo; Kah-Ming Ng - harpsichord & chamber organ