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Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585 - 1672): "Italienische Madrigale" (Italian madrigals)

Dresdner Kammerchor
Dir: Hans-Christoph Rademann

rec: June 10 - 14, 2010, Dohna, Ev. Kirche St. Marien
Carus - 83.237 (© 2011) (57'21")
Liner-notes: E (abridged)/D/F (abridged); lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & tracklist

O primavera (SWV 1); O dolcezze amarissime d'amore (SWV 2); Selve beate (SWV 3); Alma afflitta, che fai (SWV 4); Così morir debb'io (SWV 5); D'orrida selce alpina (SWV 6); Ride la primavera (SWV 7); Fuggi, fuggi, o mio core (SWV 8); Feritevi, ferite viperette mordaci (SWV 9); Fiamma ch'allaccia (SWV 10); Quella damma son io (SWV 11); Mi saluta costei (SWV 12); Io moro, ecco ch'io moro (SWV 13); Sospir, che del bel petto (SWV 14); Dunque addio, care selve (SWV 15); Tornate, o cari baci (SWV 16); Di marmo siete voi (SWV 17); Giunto è pur, Lidia, il mio (SWV 18); Vasto Mar (SWV 19)

Sources: Il primo libro de madrigali, 1611

The Italian madrigal was one of the most important musical genres of the second half of the 16th century. Many composers contributed to the genre, which also held great attraction for composers from North of the Alps. Heinrich Schütz composed his madrigals in 1611 and dedicated the collection to Landgrave Moritz of Hesse. It was he who had given him the opportunity to receive a thorough musical education and who had sent him to Venice. The 19 madrigals which were printed as his Opus 1 were the result of his studies with Giovanni Gabrieli.

It may be surprising that Schütz composed madrigals to prove the fruits of his studies. Gabrieli is not exactly known for his madrigals but rather for his polychoral sacred music. But the madrigal was seen as the genre par excellence for a composer to show his skills in the treatment of counterpoint. And as Gabrieli was one of the last great representatives of the stile antico this was at the heart of his teaching. This is also what attracted Schütz and what would make him consider Gabrieli as his hero all his life. This didn't change even when at a later stage he met Claudio Monteverdi and became acquainted with the stile rappresentativo. In the preface of the Geistliche Chormusik of 1648 he emphasised that for every composer it was essential to master the classical polyphonic style 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".

The madrigals not only prove Schütz's competence in counterpoint but also his skills in setting a text to music. Like counterpoint this was to become one of the main features of his oeuvre. It wasn't for no reason that he received the nickname of musicus poeticus. In the madrigals of the late 16th century composers aimed at carefully translating texts into music. Through musical figures they wanted to express words and phrases and their emotional meaning. Schütz follows their example in his madrigals. He makes use of the usual devices of his time to depict words and express emotions. Among these are falling intervals and dissonances to express sadness, grief and death, fast running figures and coloraturas to express joy or movement ("flee"). He also followed in his Italian colleagues' footsteps in choosing the poems for his settings. Most of them are by famous poets like Giambattista Marino and Battista Guarini. Six of the poems are from the latter's Il pastor fido. The last madrigal is an exception. This text was written by Schütz himself, proving not only his mastery of the Italian language but also his considerable poetic talent. It is a laudatory poem for Landgrave Moritz ("Gran Maurizio").

Here Schütz also pays tribute to the polychoral style of his teacher. Whereas the previous 18 madrigals are for five voices, the last madrigal is in eight parts, divided into two 'choirs'. The word 'choir' should not be taken litterally. This is no choral music, but rather vocal chamber music. Madrigals were usually performed with one voice per part, and there is no reason to perform them with a choir of 18 singers as in this recording. It is not just for historical reasons that a performance with solo voices is to be preferred. There are also musical reasons. The very precise expression of words and phrases comes off much better with one voice per part. This way the various lines of the polyphonic texture are also much easier to follow. Moreover, a choir lacks the flexibility and agility of a group of solo singers, even a choir of the quality as the Dresdner Kammerchor.

Their qualities come to the fore in many recordings, including the first volume of Carus' Schütz edition, a recording of the Geistliche Chormusik. But in the madrigals they fail on all accounts. To put it bluntly: these performances are dull. Dynamically the singing is rather flat, there is very little sign of the accurate text expression which is a feature of these madrigals and the sound lacks the necessary transparency. Too often the affetti are underexposed. It is a complete mystery to me why Rademann or the record company have decided to perform these madrigals with a choir. There are several alternatives which serve the music better: Concerto Vocale (Harmonia mundi, 1984), the Orlando di Lasso Ensemble (Thorofon, 1998) and Cantus Cölln (Harmonia mundi, 1999). The recording of The Consort of Musicke (deutsche harmonia mundi, 1985?) may also still be available.

There is no way I can recommend this disc.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

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