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Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585 - 1672): Geistliche Chor-Music 1648

Dresdner Kammerchor, Cappella Sagittariana Dresden
Dir: Hans-Christoph Rademann

rec: Nov 24 - 28, 2006 & Feb 27 - 28, 2007, Dresden, Lukaskirche
Carus - 83.232 (2 CDs) (© 2007) (1.42'10")

Es wird das Zepter von Juda nicht entwendet werden (SWV 369); Er wird sein Kleid in Wein waschen (SWV 370); Es ist erschienen die heilsame Gnade Gottes (SWV 371); Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich (SWV 372); Gib unsern Fürsten (SWV 373); Unser keiner lebet ihm selber (SWV 374); Viel werden kommen von Morgen und von Abend (SWV 375); Sammlet zuvor das Unkraut (SWV 376); Herr, auf dich traue ich (SWV 377); Die mit Tränen säen (SWV 378); So fahr ich hin zu Jesu Christ (SWV 379); Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (SWV 380); O lieber Herre Gott, wecke uns auf (SWV 381); Tröstet, tröstet mein Volk (SWV 382); Ich bin eine rufende Stimme (SWV 383); Ein Kind ist uns geboren (SWV 384); Das Wort ward Fleisch (SWV 385); Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes (SWV 386); Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr (SWV 387); Das ist je gewisslich wahr (SWV 388); Ich bin ein rechter Weinstock (SWV 389); Unser Wandel ist im Himmel (SWV 390); Selig sind die Toten (SWV 391); Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit (SWV 392); Ich weiß, dass mein Erlöser lebt (SWV 393); Sehet an den Feigenbaum (SWV 394); Der Engel sprach zu den Hirten (SWV 395); Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehöret (SWV 396); Du Schalksknecht (SWV 397);

[DK] Kristina Hochauf, Dorothea Wagner, Nicola Zöllner, Anja Zügner, soprano I; Katrin Bemmann, Sandra Bernhardt, Shirley Radig, Astrid Werner, soprano II; Uta Henke, Dorothea Kaiser, contralto; David Erler, Alexander Schneider, alto; Stephan Gähler, Jörg Genslein, Robert Höher, Tobias Mäthger, Alexander Schafft, tenor; Dirk Döbrich, Friedemann Klos, Matthias Lutze, bass
[CSD] Margret Baumgartl, violin; Adrian Rovatkay, Christian Walther, Axel Andrae, dulcian; Sebastian Krause, Stefan Gruner, Frank van Nooy, sackbut; Renate Pank, viola da gamba; Norbert Schuster, Donatus Bergemann, violone; Petra Burmann, theorbo; Sebastian Knebel, Lynn Tabbert, organ

The collection Geistliche Chor-Music today belongs to the most performed choral music. Not only professional choirs, but also amateur ensembles like to perform motets from this collection. Historically it is a most remarkable work as it is out of step with the time in which the Italian concertato style, whose features were a theatral treatment of the text and the use of the basso continuo, was dominant. Schütz himself made use of that style as well like in his Symphoniae Sacrae, the second part of which he had only published one year earlier.

Schütz had a specific reason to compose his Geistliche Chor-Music in the old-fashioned motet-style characterised by its use of counterpoint. In his preface he doesn't criticise the increased popularity of the concertato style, but he emphasises that for every composer it is essential to master the classical polyphonic style of composing before turning to the concertato style. He wanted "to remind Germany's budding composers that, before proceding to the concertante style, they should bite on this hard nut [the motet style] (in which the true heart and foundation of good counterpoint will be found) and pass their first test in this way". This doesn't mean Schütz returns to the style of the renaissance: he makes use of contemporary means of expressing the text in the music, without ever exaggerating, and avoiding anything too theatrical.

The collection consists of 29 motets, ordered according to the number of parts, going from five to seven. Most motets are based on texts from the Bible, especially the New Testament. Exceptions are the motet pair Verleih uns Frieden - Gib unsern Fürsten (based on texts by Martin Luther and Johann Walter respectively) and O lieber Herre Gott (again on a text by Luther). In addition Schütz uses chorales twice: Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr (Martin Schalling, 1569) and Was mein Gott will, das gscheh allzeit (Albrecht von Preußen, 1554). Only in the latter he keeps the chorale melody connected with the text. In the former he uses the strophic form, but there are no reminiscences to the original melody. This is no surprise as in his oeuvre Schütz seldom uses the then common chorale melodies.

Schütz was generally called musicus poeticus, referring to his attention to the text. According to the musicologist Siegfried Schmalzriedt Schütz mostly uses the so-called stylus luxurians communis, which "occupies a moderate, intermediate position between those styles which, prior to 1600, had been known as the 'motet-style' and the 'madrigal-style'. In practical terms this means that in the majority of the motets in the Geistliche Chor-Music Schütz strives to achieve an expressive setting of the text while still maintaining the autonomy of the music".

In several motets Schütz uses musical means to emphasize the contrast between passages, like between "leben" (live) and "sterben" (die) (Unser keiner lebet ihm selber), "die mit Tränen säen - werden mit Freuden ernten" (who in sorrow plant seed - shall gather in rejoicing) (Die mit Tränen säen) or "sie ruhen von ihrer Arbeit - und ihre Werke folgen ihnen nach" (they rest now from all their labours - and all their works do follow after them) (Selig sind die Toten). A specific way to express a contrast in the text is the opposition of polyphony and homophony, like in Tröstet, tröstet mein Volk: "all the crooked paths then shall be straightened, and the rockiest place shall be plain then". The homophony is used here to illustrate the straight and the plain. In the same motet Schütz writes a unisono figure on "ebene Bahn" (even path). Other examples of how single words are illustrated: in Viel werden kommen "Heulen" (wailing) is set to long-held notes, "Zähnklappern" (gnashing of teeth) on a sequence of short notes, whereas "ausgestoßen in die Finsternis" (banished to the darkness) is set to a descending figure. Emphasizing key elements in the text is also achieved by setting them for all voices or by repetition of motifs.

In his preface Schütz also indicates how his motets should be performed. He explicitly refers to the use of both voices and instruments which can be used in two ways: either the instruments support the voices (playing colla parte) or they replace (one or more of) them. At the request of his publisher Schütz added a basso continuo part, but emphasises that this part is not necessary. There is little to say with any certainty about the number of performers to be used. The collection was dedicated to the Thomanerchor and the authorities of Leipzig, and therefore a performance with a (small) choir is certainly one of the options. In this performance most motets are performed by the choir, whereas a handful of pieces are sung by soloists from the choir. Whereas in most five- and six-part motets the organ (sometimes the theorbo) supports the choir, the instrumental ensemble is used in the seven-part motets. The instruments used are violin, three dulcians, three trombones, viola da gamba, two violones, theorbo and two organs. In a way it is a bit disappointing that the instruments have not been used in other motets as well. Also a consort of viols had certainly been appropriate in this repertoire.

But the choir gives excellent performances: the sound is crisp and clear, also thanks to the lack of vibrato; diction, articulation and phrasing are immaculate. There are also impressive deliveries by soloists from the choir. The altos David Erler and Alexander Schneider give a particular moving performance of Auf dem Gebirge.

A couple of critical remarks: sometimes I had liked to hear a stronger contrast, like in the opening phrases of Die mit Tränen säen or the passage in Selig sind die Toten I have referred to above. In Was mein Gott will two parts are sung by the altos and the tenors of the choir: I wonder why these parts are not sung by solo voices, which seems to me a more logical option. The same goes for the last item on this recording, Du Schalksknecht, where the tenor part is sung chorally.

These remarks don't take anything away from my great appreciation of this recording, which brings the qualities of Schütz' music to the fore. The booklet contains all texts with a reference to their sources and an English translation.

Johan van Veen (© 2009)

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