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Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585 - 1672): Dafne (ed. Roland Wilson)

La Capella Ducale; Musica Fiata
Dir: Roland Wilson

rec: June 2 - 4, 2021, Berlin-Karlshorst, Kirche 'Zur frohen Botschaft'
CPO - 555 494-2 (© 2022) (75'15")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

[LCD] Magdalene Harer (Cupido, Nymfe), Magdalena Podkoscielna (Nymfe, Venus), Marie Luise Werneburg (Dafne), soprano; David Erler (Hirte), alto; Tobias Hunger (Apollo), Georg Poplutz (Hirte, Ovidus), tenor; Joachim Höchbauer (Hirte), bass
[MF] Roland Wilson, Anna Schall, recorder, cornett; Gerd Schnackenberg, Detlef Reimers, Clemens Erdmann, sackbut; Adrian Rovatkay, bassoon; Claudia Mende, Uwe Ulbrich, violin, viola; Juliane Laake, viola da gamba; Heidi Gröger, viola da gamba, lirone; Vincent Kibildis, harp; Michael Freimuth, lute, chitarrone; Pedro Alcacer, chitarrone, guitar; Arno Schneider, harpsichord, organ, regal

The loss of potential masterworks is one of the greatest frustrations of performers of our time. How many would not like to perform Monteverdi's opera L'Arianna, of which only the famous lament has been preserved? And if Bach's St Mark Passion would be rediscovered, we would see many recordings within a few years. When some years ago Telemann's fantasias for viola da gamba were rediscovered, quite a number of gambists could hardly wait for the scores to become available and play and record them.

Sometimes attempts at reconstruction are made. There seem to be enough indications of what Bach's St Mark Passion may have been like to try to perform a kind of reconstruction. And often it is possible to reconstruct single missing parts of a polyphonic work. However, in the case of Monteverdi's L'Arianna there is nothing to start from. The same is the case with Heinrich Schütz' only opera Dafne. So far, no attempt at reconstruction has been made, until Roland Wilson used the COVID-19 lockdown to have a look at the extant libretto and try to find music that may fit the text.

Schütz composed the opera, which was the first in German, in 1627 at the occasion of the wedding of Sophie Eleonore, Duchess of Saxony, and Georg II, Landgrave of Hesse-Darmstadt, in Torgau. The libretto was written by Martin Opitz, one of the main poets of the time; in 1624 he had published his Buch von der deutschen Poeterey, with which he aimed to reform German poetry, proving that the language was perfectly suitable for it. His libretto was not original, but rather an adaptation of the libretto by Ottavio Rinuccini, which was first set by the Italian composer Jacopo Peri in 1598. He dedicated his libretto to the bridal couple: "To Their Highnesses, the bride and the bridegroom, at whose nuptials Dafne, by Heinrich Schiitz, was presented in music in the year 1627." A document of the time describes the work as a 'pastoral tragicomedy'.

Opitz's version is indeed an adaptation. The starting point was Rinuccini's libretto, but Opitz cut out some parts and extended the choruses which close each act. Hans Joachim Moser, in his book Heinrich Schütz - Sein Leben und Werk (1936), concludes, after an analysis of the libretto: "To be sure, the concept 'opera' seems to be applicable only with some reservation in the case of Schütz's Dafne, since choruses and solo concerti seem to have far outweighed the real stile rappresentativo. Therefore one should almost speak rather of a concert and madrigal presentation than of an actual dramma per musica" (quoted after English translation, 1959). It has also been suggested that Dafne was merely a theatre performance with only a few songs by Schütz. Wilson does not agree, and believes it was a true opera. He follows the suggestion of the musicologist Michael Heinemann "that considering Schütz' lack of experience in this field it was most likely to have been a pasticcio with Schütz borrowing from music of his contemporaries, which was of course a common procedure at the time." This assumption was the starting point of Wilson's attempt to reconstruct the opera.

The first aria by Apollo, for example, fits the music of Schütz's song Güldne Haare (SWV 440), which is an adaptation of Monteverdi's madrigal Chiome d'oro. Other pieces Wilson used for this reconstruction are Läßt Salomon (SWV 452 - not 325, as the liner-notes have it), and Liebster, sagt in süssem Schmerzen (SWV 441) (a poem by Opitz, by the way). Whereas the arias can be reconstructed in this way, the recitatives are a different matter (comparable with the problem of a reconstruction of Bach's St Mark Passion). Rather than composing recitatives in the style of the time himself, Wilson turned to the setting of the libretto by Marco da Gagliano (which was published in 1608 - Wilson believes that it is very likely that Schütz knew this work). He adapted the recitatives in Gagliano's opera to the text by Opitz. For additional music he used music by two composers who worked at the court in Dresden at the time. One was Johann Nauwach, who also wrote music for the festivities and presumably played the lute in the performance of Dafne. The music of two villanellas from his pen are included here. The second composer was Biagio Marini, the violin virtuoso who played such an important role in transporting the Italian style of violin playing to Germany, and can be considered the founding father of the German violin school. Lastly, Wilson used a lament by Alessandro Grandi at the beginning of the fifth act. This makes sense in that Schütz was clearly fond of Grandi's music, and was influenced by the latter's sacred concertos.

Wilson concludes his liner-notes thus: "I do not claim of course, that this version of Dafne is identical with that heard in 1627 but I do believe, that it is close to it; just enjoy the music and you will hear some wonderful pieces by Schütz and his contemporaries, that you probably would not have listened to otherwise." That seems an honest statement, and I would advise anyone, considering the purchase of this recording, to give it a chance, and enjoy the fine music that is performed here.

That brings me to the way it has been executed on this disc, and I can only say that all participants bring the best performances I can imagine. Wilson always brings together voices that match each other perfectly and are ideally suited to the repertoire. Two things are especially important: all the singers in this recording master the art of declamation, and as all of them are German speakers, the pronunciation is entirely idiomatic. The instrumental ensemble also plays a substantial role here, and its playing is top-class.

It is probably fair to say that Dafne is more a lyrical than a dramatic piece, and that is how this work is performed here. That does in no way compromise its value. This disc is an important addition to the Schütz discography, especially as it sheds light on his secular music, which is a lesser-known aspect of his oeuvre.

Johan van Veen (© 2023)

Relevant links:

Musica Fiata & La Capella Ducale

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