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

Weser-Renaissance Bremen
Dir: Manfred Cordes

rec: Feb 17 - 22, 2014, Bassum, Stiftskirche St. Mauritius und St. Viktor
CPO - 777 929-2 (2 CDs) (© 2015) (1.32'42")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

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

Ulrike Hofbauer, Gerline Sämann, soprano; Mirko Ludwig, Hans Jörg Mammel, tenor; Harry van der Kamp, bass
Julia Fritz, Annette John, recorder; Gebhard David, Frithjof Smith, cornett; Veronika Skuplik, Dasa Valentova, violin; Simen van Mechelen, Adam Woolf, Detlef Reimers, Joost Swinkels, sackbut; Birgit Bahr, Regina Sanders, Eva-Maria Horn, dulcian; Margit Schultheiß, harp; Thomas Ihlenfeldt, chitarrone; Detlef Bratschke, organ

For centuries Venice was one of the musical centres of Europe. That was certainly the case when Giovanni Gabrieli was organist of the San Marco basilica and was responsible for the composition of ceremonial music. He attracted many up-and-coming musicians from across Europe; one of them was Heinrich Schütz. Gabrieli died in 1612 and as most of his works were written before the turn of the century they are rooted in the stile antico. Only his latest publications include some features of the stile nuovo as it was propagated by Giulio Caccini. Schütz must have been aware of the latest trends in music, especially as several collections of madrigals in the new style were published at the time he prepared his madrigals in which he showed what he had learnt from Gabrieli. Little of those influences are notable in his madrigals which were printed in Venice in 1611.

After his return he published a collection of Psalmen Davids (1619) and here some elements of the stile nuovo shine through. In 1625 the third collection of music from his pen came from the press. These were the Cantiones Sacrae in which he more or less returns to the stile antico. It shows that counterpoint still played a crucial role in his approach to music. In fact, until the end of his life he would consider it the basis of the whole compositional process as he once again expressed in the preface to his Geistliche Chor-Music of 1648. That doesn't mean that he dissociated himself from the newest trends in Italian music. In 1628 his employer, the Elector of Saxony, gave him 15 months off to travel to Italy a second time, in order to broaden his horizon and hear for himself what had happened since his first stay. In 1629 he published a collection of sacred concertos under the title Symphoniae Sacrae. These show the influences of the stile nuovo in the way the text was treated, the scoring for solo voices and the inclusion of independent instrumental parts which were also specified in the score.

During his stay he should have met Claudio Monteverdi who "guided him with joy and happily showed him the long-sought path", according to the Dresden court poet Geier. But in his preface Schütz even doesn't mention him, although he was maestro di cappella of San Marco. He does, however, mention his former teacher Gabrieli: "Gabrieli, o immortal gods, how great a man!" He points out what had changed in the last decades: "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."

The collection comprises twenty concertos; ten of these belong together as the designations prima pars and secunda pars indicate. The collection was printed in Venice which explains that these concertos are on Latin texts. All of them are taken from the Bible, and all but one from the Old Testament. Ten are from the Book of Psalms, seven from the Song of Songs and two from the two Books of Samuel. It is interesting that in his liner-notes Konrad Küster points out that David and Solomon play a key role in this collection. "David and Solomon (his son) were rulers, but in the Psalter and the Song of Songs they proved to be outstanding creators of cultural products. Seventeen of the twenty pieces refer in some form or other to these two key figures in the later books of the Old Testament, either as actors or as authors. Since the text to 'Fili mi, Absalon' from the Second Book of Samuel also refers to King Solomon's half brother, it too belongs to the David-Solomon complex." He suggests that this is no coincidence. "Does this work then involve an homage to Schütz's employer Johann Georg I, the Prince Elector of Saxony, or to Crown Prince Johann Georg II, to whom the collection is dedicated?" He mentions several other facts and then concludes: "It is thus quite possible that the Symphoniae Sacrae I - viewed as a whole - are political music as well in the sense of a biblical enhancement of the art-loving ruler". This is probably impossible to prove, but it is certainly an interesting thought. Moreover, the very nature of these pieces seem to make them especially suited for 'table music', to be performed during the meals of Schütz's employer.

One of the novelties in this collection is the specific indication of the instruments to be used. But as not all instruments which Schütz had in thought may have been always available he often suggested alternatives. Some pieces require two violins - the most common scoring in those days - but others are for less common instruments, such as trombones or bassoons. Jubilate Deo is for two flautinos, with violins as an alternative. Fili mi Absalon requires four trombones, but the two upper parts can also be played on two violins instead. In In lectulo per noctes the three instrumental parts can be played on bassoons or on viole da gamba. It is not always possible to explain the choice of instruments, for instance on the basis of the text, but here that connection is very clear: "By night on my bed I sought the one I love". The mention of the night clearly inspired Schütz to require low instruments here. In Buccinate in neomenia tuba - "Blow the trumpet at the time of the New Moon" - the three instrumental parts are for cornett, trumpet - with a second cornett as alternative - and bassoon. The voices here also imitate the sound of the trumpet.

The fact that these pieces show the influences of the newest Italian music should not lead to the conclusion that they should be performed in Monteverdian style. It is notable that Schütz, despite his interest of the stile nuovo, eschewed the most dramatic features of the Italian style, for instance the stile concitato as practised by Monteverdi. Therefore it seems right to show some restraint in the performance of the Symphoniae Sacrae. That is certainly the case in these interpretations by Weser-Renaissance. However, I think that they have gone a little too far. In several cases I find the performances too restrained. That goes, for instance, for Anima mea liquefacta est where the singing of Mirko Ludwig is too bland. He has a nice voice, but a bit flat on colour. The balance between the instruments is not always ideal. These are ensemble pieces, not pieces for solo voice(s) with instrumental accompaniment. That said, the text has always to be clearly understandable, and at the opening of Veni, dilecte me Gerlinde Sämann is almost overshadowed by the sackbuts and little of the text comes across. Moreover, the tempi are moderate; in several cases I would prefer swifter tempi. That is not crucial, though; I am most disappointed about the too narrow dynamic shading. I have heard many recordings by this ensemble and admired almost all of them. This is basically a good performance but not of the standard I expected. I have to say that the recording doesn't help. At the start I found the sound pretty flat; it was less of a problem later on but that is probably a matter of getting used to it. Its volume is also rather low.

Some years ago I heard the recording by Musica Fiata, directed by Roland Wilson (deutsche harmonia mundi, 2010) which I generally prefer. There is not so much difference in regard to the voices; both ensembles have fine singers and the instrumentalists in both recordings are outstanding. Wilson's interpretation is just a shade more dramatic and more dynamic without being too theatrical in the Monteverdian sense of the word.

As one almost expects from a CPO production something has gone wrong: on the first CD the tracks 5/6 (O quam tu pulchra es - Veni de Libano) and 7/8 (In lectulo per noctes - Invenerunt me) have been swapped in the track-list. The text of Veni de Libano is incomplete in the booklet. It is also regrettable that there is no indication as to which singer participates in which piece.

Johan van Veen (© 2016)

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