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Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585 - 1672): "Symphoniae Sacrae I - 1629" (SWV 257-276)

Barbara Bordena, Nele Gramßb, soprano; Rogers Covey-Crump, countertenorc; John Potterd, Douglas Nasrawie, tenor; Harry van der Kamp, bassf
Concerto Palatino

rec: Oct & Nov 1991, Haarlem, Doopsgezinde Kerk
Accent - ACC 30078 (2 CDs) (R) (© 2004) (1.36'30")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D/F
Cover & track-list

Paratum cor meum, Deus (SWV 257)a; Exultavit cor meum in Domino (SWV 258)a; In te, Domine, speravi (SWV 259)c; Cantabo Domino in vita mea (SWV 260)d; Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis (SWV 261)e; Jubilate Deo omnis terra (SWV 262)def; Anima mea liquefacta est (1. Pars) (SWV 263)de; Adjuro vos, filiae Jerusalem (2. Pars) (SWV 264)de; O quam tu pulchra es (1. Pars) (SWV 265)de; Veni de Libano (2. Pars) (SWV 266)de; Benedicam Dominum in omni tempore (1. Pars) (SWV 267)adf; Exquisivi Dominum (2. Pars) (SWV 268)adf; Fili mi, Absalon (SWV 269)f; Attendite, popule meus (SWV 270)f; Domine, labia mea aperies (SWV 271)ae; In lectulo per noctes (1. Pars) (SWV 272)ac; In venerunt me custodes civitatis (2. Pars) (SWV 273)ac; Veni, dilecte mi (SWV 274)abe; Buccinate in neomenia tuba (1. Pars) (SWV 275)def; Jubilate Deo (2. Pars) (SWV 276)def

Bruce Dickey, Doron David Sherwin, cornett, cornetto muto; Johani Listo, trumpet; Peter Van Heyghen, Marcel Ketels, recorder; Thomas Albert, Irmgard Schaller, violin; Charles Toet, Sue Addison, Harry Ries, Wim Becu, sackbut; Bernhard Junghänel, Regina Sanders, Birgit Siefer, curtal; Stephen Stubbs, chitarrone; Klaus Eichhorn, organ

In the first half of the 17th century Italy - and in particular Venice - was the place to be. Musicians who could afford it travelled to the city to study the newest deveopments in music, or - when they were in the service of a court - were sent over the Alps to increase their knowledge and skills. Heinrich Schütz was one of many composers from the northern part of Europe who stayed a number of years in Venice. From 1609 to 1613 Schütz lived there and became the pupil of Giovanni Gabrieli, the maestro di cappella of the San Marco. He held his teacher in the greatest esteem all his life, for personal and musical reasons.

The meetings with Claudio Monteverdi, which are assumed to have taken place during Schütz' second visit to Venice, from 1628 to 1629, didn't change that. When in 1629 he published his first collection of Symphoniae Sacrae he didn't mention the successor of Gabrieli as maestro di cappella of San Marco in his preface. He referred again to Giovanni Gabrieli, though: "Gabrieli, o immortal gods, how great a man!" Although he went to Italy for a second time to study the newest trends he didn't adopt everything that was on offer. In his preface he mentions the changes which had taken place: "I learned that the long unchanged art of composition had changed somewhat: the ancient rhythms were partly set aside to tickle the ears of today with fresh devices." And he presents his collection as the result of his studies of the new style of composing: "I directed my mind and my energies, to the end that, in accordance with my purpose, I might offer you something from the store of my industry."

But these compositions demonstrate that Schütz was very selective in what he adopted from the new Italian style. There are very few traces of the Monteverdian stile concitato, for instance. And the extreme expression of affects in both vocal and instrumental parts Italian composers used is rather rare in the Symphoniae Sacrae. The most Italianate piece of the collection is the solo concerto Fili mi Absalon. The differences are most striking in the concertos on texts from the Song of Songs: here there is none of the strong passion of Italian compositions on these texts. The text expression in these Symphoniae Sacrae is also much more sober and restrained than in compositions by Italian contemporaries.

In these concertos Schütz uses a wide range of instruments, both strings and wind. They have different functions. Sometimes they are used as additional voices, like in Benedicam Dominum or Veni, dilecte mi. Many pieces begin with a sinfonia, in which the instruments play motifs which are later picked up by the voices. Instrumental passages are also used to divide a piece into contrasting sections. And sometimes they illustrate the text, for example cornett, trumpet and curtal in Buccinate in neomenia tuba: "Blow up the trumpet in the new moon (...) With trumpets and sounds of cornett, make a joyful noise before the Lord". And in In lectulo per noctes Schütz prescribes low instruments - bass viols or bassoons (here curtals) - to illustrate the dark mood in this text from the Song of Songs: "By night on my bed I sought him whom my soul loveth".

In this collection all but one of the texts are from the Old Testament, mainly from the Book of Psalms, and also a number on passages from the Song of Songs. The inclusion of these texts as well as a strongly madrigalian piece like Fili mi Absalon raises the question for which purpose Schütz has composed these sacred concertos. The subtitle is Opus ecclesiasticum secundum. The word ecclesiasticum suggests a performance in churches, but it is doubtful whether there was noa place for pieces on texts from the Song of Songs or for a concerto like Fili mi Absalon in the Lutheran liturgy. Therefore these pieces were probably intended for private use at court.

Schütz studied the Italian style, but only used it as far as it suited him. One of the strengths of this performance is that the interpreters are fully aware of that: they never exaggerate the text expression, the word painting or the affect in the instrumental parts. In this performance the text is always at the centre of attention, not only for the singers - who excell in diction and articulation - but also for the instrumentalists. I am very pleased that this splendid recording is available again, in particular because in my view it hasn't been surpassed since its first release.

Johan van Veen (© 2005)

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