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Schütz: Musicalische Exequien (SWV 279 - 281); Sacred Concertos

Mona Spägele, Dorothee Mields, Hedwig Westhoff-Düppmann, Bettina Pahn, soprano; Detlef Bratschke, Jörg Erler, alto; Norman Daniel Patzke, Benjamin-Helge Bruns, tenor; Torsten Gödde, Michael Jäckel, bass
Knabenchor Hannover; Christoph Heidemann, Katharina Huche-Kohn, baroque violin; Ensemble UCS
Dir: Heinz Hennig
rec: Nov. 1998/March 1999, Hannover, Studio Norddeutscher Rundfunk
Ars Musici - AM 1267-2 (56'05")

Musicalische Exequien (SWV 279 - 281); Das ist je gewißlich wahr (SWV 277); Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener im Friede fahren (SWV 432 & 433); Symphoniae Sacrae, III: Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel (SWV 411), Nun danket alle Gott (SWV 418)

Ensemble UCS: Jörg Meder, viola da gamba, violone; Axel Wolf, chitarrone; Thomas Grunwald-Deyda, organ

The 'Musicalische Exequien' belong to the most famous and most solemn of Schütz' works. The work was commissioned by Heinrich Posthumus 'the younger' of Reuss-Gera, an educated and cultivated ruler. When he was over sixty he started to make preparations for his death. Part of these preparations was an exact plan specifying what was to happen at the funeral ceremony and in which sequence - including the music to be performed, for which he commissioned Heinrich Schütz.
Schütz' music is not a sort of German protestant version of the Roman catholic Requiem. It was part of a funeral procedure which was rooted in pre-Reformation tradition of "exequies" (Lat. exequiae = accompanying a dead person out). They contain of three parts: the transfer of the body to the church, the celebration of the Requiem Mass and the procession to the grave.
Being part of a funeral procedure this work could perhaps best be compared with Purcell's Funeral Sentences for Queen Mary.

The three parts are composed in different ways. Part 1, consisting of 21 quotations from the Bible and from hymns are set in the form of a German Mass - it says: "Concert in Form einer teutschen Begräbnis-Missa". The quotations from the Bible are set as small sacred concertos, the hymns as 6-part motets. (Schütz doesn't use the chorale melodies as they are still known today.) Part 2 is a bichoral sermon motet, part 3 is a chorus for 5 voices. Schütz uses two forms of composition alongside each other: the "old" motet and the "new" sacred concerto. That habit is also reflected in the other pieces on this CD: two motets on the same text as Part 3 of the Exequien: the Canticum Simeonis, "Herr nun lässest du deinen Diener in Frieden fahren". These were composed for the death of the Elector Johann Georg I of Saxony, who died October 8th, 1656. Another motet, Das ist je gewisslich wahr, for 6 voices and bc, was composed for the death of Schütz' friend Johann Hermann Schein, in 1630, who was Thomaskantor in Leipzig. The CD closes with two sacred concertos from the collection Symphoniae Sacrae III from 1650. The first of these, Nun danket alle Gott, was probably composed on the occasion of the Peace of Westfalia (1648), which ended the disastrous 30-Year War.

The Knabenchor Hannover has a long experience with performing Schütz' music. They have recorded the Geistliche Chormusik and Schütz' last composition, Der 119. Psalm, and also participated in a recording of polychoral pieces with Cantus Cölln and Musica Fiata. The works here are given rather introverted and solemn interpretations, which can be justified on the basis of the character of the music. I would have preferred a little more contrast, particularly in dynamics. But otherwise this is a very good recording of one of Schütz' most moving compositions. The soloists are all very good, and they blend very well with the choir. It helps that some of them have been (are?) members of the choir: Detlef Bratschke and Jörg Erler both appeared as treble soloists in the Teldec recording of Bach's cantatas, and Michael Jäckel has been one of the treble singers in the Geistliche Chormusik. The sound the female sopranos produce isn't much different from that of the trebles.
To sum up, this is a recording I can recommend wholeheartedly. The programme notes which I have used here are very informative.

Johan van Veen (© 2000)

P.S. On January 29, 2002, the founder and director of the Knabenchor, Heinz Hennig, died, at the age of 74. This recording has been one of his last. It is a lasting and worthy tribute to a musician, who devoted his life mainly to the performance of the music of Schütz and Bach, and the use of boys' voices in it.
Knabenchor Hannover

Johan van Veen (© 2002)

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