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"Larmes de résurrection" (Tears of resurrection)

Georges Abdallah, voice; Claire Lefilliâtre, soprano; Fiona McGown, mezzo-soprano; Vincent Lievre-Picard, Sebastien Obrecht, Lisandro Nesis, tenor; Victor Sicard, bass-baritone
La Tempête
Dir: Simon-Pierre Bestion

rec: Sept 2017, Versailles, Château (Chapelle Royale)
Alpha - 394 (© 2017) (77'18")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/F
Cover, track-list & booklet
Scores Schein
Score Schütz

Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630): Da Jakob vollendet hatte; Die mit Tränen säen; Freue dich des Weibes deiner Jugend; Herr, lass meine Klage; Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn; Lieblich und schöne sein ist nichts; O Herr, ich bin dein Knecht; Wende dich, Herr, und sei mir gnädig; Zion spricht: Der Herr hat mich verlassen; Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672): Historia der frölichen und siegreichen Aufferstehung unsers einigen Erlösers und Seligmachers Jesu Christi (SWV 50)

Source: Johann Hermann Schein, Fontana d’Israel, Israelis Brünlein, auserlesener Krafft-Sprüchlin altes und newen Testaments ... auf einer ... Italian madrigalische Manier, 1623

Benoît Tainturier, Sarah Dubus, cornett, mute cornett; Abel Rohrbach, Alexis Lahens, Olivier Dubois, sackbut; Camille Antoinet, violin; Katia Viel, violin, viola; Robin Pharo, Nina Rouyer, Julie Dessaint, viola da gamba; Youen Cadiou, double bass; Berengere Sardin, harp; Pierre Rinderknecht, theorbo; Yoann Moulin, organ

When Heinrich Schütz was appointed Kapellmeister at the court in Dresden in 1617, every year the gospel of Easter was performed on a setting by Antonio Scandello (1517 - 1580), one of his predecessors. It was only in 1623 that Schütz composed his own setting, the Auferstehungshistorie, as a replacement of Scandello's setting, which Schütz himself had performed in his first years in Dresden. It was his first contribution to the genre of the Historia. It linked up with tradition, but also included some meaningful innovations.

Schütz uses the same text as Scandello, a compilation of the events of Easter from the four gospels, the so-called Evangelien-Harmonie (Harmony of the Gospels), by the Wittenberg reformer Johannes Bugenhagen (1485 - 1558). He also keeps the traditional recitation model, the Easter tone, for the part of the Evangelist. Scandello had set the parts of the individual characters - Jesus, Mary Magdalene and Cleophas - for up to four voices, in Schütz's Historia they are set for two, with the exception of the part of Cleophas, which is given to a soloist. But Schütz gave performers the option of assigning the second part to an instrument or omitting it altogether.

This is not the only innovation: the basso continuo was introduced to support the singers. And the objectivity of the traditional Historia was eliminated in favour of a more emotional delivery of the events at Easter. Schütz made use of Affekt and madrigalisms to translate the actions into music and to express the emotions of the characters in the story. Not only the part of the Evangelist reflects this approach, but also the accompaniment of this part, for which Schütz strongly preferred a consort of four viole da gamba. This way he creates a contrast between the Evangelist and the other parts, which is underlined by another of his suggestions regarding the performance: he preferred his Historia to be performed with two choirs, one of them the Evangelist with the consort of viols, the other the 'choir of people'. He also wished only the Evangelist to be seen by the audience, whereas the other participants should be out of sight.

In Schütz's music the text is always in the centre. The message - in this case the biblical story of Jesus's resurrection - should be communicated as clearly as possible to the congregation. It is here that the present recording fails miserably, due to the liberties Simon-Pierre Bestion has allowed himself.

If one looks at the track-list, one will probably wonder why pieces from the collection Israelis Brünlein by Johann Hermann Schein are included here. The combination of Schütz and Schein as such makes much sense. They were contemporaries, knew each other well and were even close friends. Stylistically they have much in common as well. Both mingled elements of the new Italian style with traditional counterpoint. That comes to the fore in Schütz Auferstehungshistorie as well as Schein's 'sacred madrigals'. However, whereas the former work had a liturgical function, the pieces by Schein were rather intended for extra-liturgical, and especially domestic performance. Moreover, the Israelis Brünlein doesn't include a single piece which is related to Easter. The worst thing is that the sacred madrigals Bestion has selected, are inserted into Schütz Auferstehungshistorie. For instance, when Jesus appears to the women who belong to his followers and says: "Go and tell my brethren to go into Galilee, and there they shall see me", we hear Schein's Freue dich des Weibes deiner Jugend, a setting of verses from Proverbes 5: "Rejoice in the wife of your youth, for she is as fair as a fawn, as beautiful as a foe". This is plain nonsense.

But Bestion did never aim at performing Schütz's music according to the composer's intentions. He rather uses it as a vehicle for his own ideas, as he explains in the interview in the booklet. "My idea was to tell a story, the story of an amazing Resurrection, in the same way you tell a child a fairy tale. This recording places the characters associated with Jesus in the foreground: their feelings of pain following his death, their fearfulness when faced with the disappearance of his body, and finally their unutterable joy at his Resurrection. I chose the work of Schütz as a connecting thread, with the music of Schein as a relief." This clearly violates the intentions of Schütz, who - in accordance with Lutheran doctrines - puts Christ in the centre of attention.

The Auferstehungshistorie is not performed in its entirety. "I've been working on this project for nearly a year now. I even spent last summer at a very special place my father was very fond of, the Benedictine Abbey of En Calcat, in order to work in peace and quiet on the planning of this project. That was a source of inspiration for this CD, which, by the way, comprises twenty-one different stages, a reference to a symbolic number in the Bible (e.g. on Easter Day Jesus appeared in twenty-one different places of Palestine to confirm his Resurrection). I'm not myself a believer, but just by following the monastic offices and the monks' daily rhythm of life I was deeply influenced in the musical and dramatic choices I made. Their chants, which draw on the psalmodic declamation and the melismas of the Gregorian tradition, gave me the idea of getting an Evangelist from the Byzantine tradition to be the Narrator of this Narrative of the Resurrection". The latter is one of the most disastrous decisions he has taken. The performance of this part has really nothing to do with what Schütz had in mind, or with historical performance practice in general, for that matter. Georges Abdallah didn't know any German before the recording started, and that shows. That is especially catastrophic in music by a composer who always puts the text in the centre, as his nickname musicus poeticus indicates. "He naturally ornaments his singing, and while that is not Schütz's compositional approach, it connects in a peculiar way with our western tradition inherited from Gergorian chant: the same is true of the hypnotic character of the singer's narration." Not often I have read such rubbish in a CD booklet.

We not only get the Auferstehungshistorie incomplete, Bestion also took the freedom to rewrite the instrumental parts and add instruments where they are not required. "I wanted to rekindle the life that is truly present in this work by adding trombones, violins, cornetts and a contrabass. I did the same with the music of Schein by bringing in instruments - which are not actually called for by the composer - as an echo effect, alternating with and responding to the vocal melodic lines and the intentions contained in the texts (...)".

I always try to say something positive about a recording, even if I don't like the performances. That is impossible here. If a performer wants to express his very own ideas, why doesn't he compose his own music or commission a contemporary composer to do it for him? This project is completely absurd and self-important. Mr Bestion: Schütz's Auferstehungshistorie is not about you.

Johan van Veen (© 2019)

Relevant links:

La Tempête

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