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Heinrich Schütz (1585 - 1672): Musicalische Exequien

Dorothee Mieldsa, Marie Luise Werneburgb, Anja Zügnerc, soprano; Alexander Schneider, altod; Jan Kobowe, Tobias Mäthgerf, tenor; Harry van der Kampg, Matthias Lutzeh, bass
Dresdner Kammerchori; Matthias Müller, violonej; Ludger Rémy, organk
Dir: Hans-Christoph Rademann

rec: May 2 - 8, 2011, Radeberg, Stadtkirche 'Zum Heiligen Namen Gottes'
Carus - 83.238 (© 2011) (68'24")
Liner-notes: E (abridged)/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Das ist je gewißlich wahr (SWV 277)ijk; Grimmige Gruft (SWV 52)ajk; Gutes und Barmherzigkeit (SWV 95)ijk; Ich bin die Auferstehung und das Leben (SWV 464)i; Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt (SWV 94)acdegjk; Musicalische Exequien (SWV 279-281); O meine Seel, warum bist du betrübet (SWV 419)i

The Musicalische Exequien belong to the most frequently performed and recorded compositions by Heinrich Schütz. This site includes reviews of various recordings. There you will find more information about this work and its historical context. From this angle one could argue that this new recording is a bit superfluous, especially as some previous recordings are outstanding. But this is part of a Schütz Edition, which brings the complete works of Schütz. And then this work obviously can't be omitted.

A couple of things are important in regard to a performance. For the first part Schütz indicates six solo voices and a cappella of six additional voices. That is observed in that we hear six soloists and the choir. The Dresdner Kammerchor comprises 18 singers, but some of them also sing the soli, so it seems likely that the part of the cappella is scored with 12 voices, which is double the size which Schütz required. The second part is scored for eight voices in two choirs. It is hard to say how many performers may have been involved in the performance in February 1636 during the funeral of Herr Heinrich Posthumus von Reuß, for which the work was written. Considering that Schütz required 12 voices in total for the first part a performance with one voice per part in this section seems most plausible. Here probably the full choir is involved. For the third part Schütz has indicated that the text "Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener" (the German version of the Nunc dimittis) should be sung by a five-part choir of lower voices near the organ, whereas two sopranos and a bass should sing the text "Selig sind die Toten" (Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord) from the back of the vault in which Posthumus von Reuß was laid to rest. In most recordings this is realised by allocating the three solo singers somewhere in the back of the recording venue. That is not the case here: we hear the solo voices as a second choir, as if this is a conventional piece for cori spezzati. That is a serious minus in this performance.

There are a couple of other issues as well. In the solo voices now and then a slight vibrato creeps in, which is not appropriate here. Alexander Schneider has little presence, and his part doesn't fully come off. These are the factors which make me stand by my previous preferences: Vox Luminis (Ricercar) and the Collegium Vocale Gent (Harmonia mundi).

It is logical to select other pieces in Schütz oeuvre which are connected to death, which were often written for funerals. In 1630 Johann Hermann Schein died, who was a personal friend of his, and Thomaskantor in Leipzig. Schütz composed the motet Das ist je gewißlich wahr (SWV 277), with a moving tribute on the title page to this "man of most excellent genius and virtue". Another motet, Ich bin die Auferstehung und das Leben (SWV 464), was written for the funeral of Anton Colander, court organist in Dresden and a pupil of Schütz. These pieces were also recorded by Vox Luminis. This disc contains four pieces which have not been recorded before.

Grimmige Gruft (SWV 52) was written for the funeral of Duchess Sophia of Saxony in December 1622. It is a rather simple but emotionally moving piece in six stanzas for solo voice and bc. The text was written by Schütz himself. Dorothee Mields delivers an outstanding interpretation. Two other pieces were written in 1625. Gutes und Barmherzigkeit (SWV 95) was dedicated to Jacob Schultes who died that year. The text is the sixth verse from Psalm 23: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever". It is scored for six voices and bc in the traditional polyphonic style. On 15 August 1625 the sister of Schütz's wife, Anna Maria Wildeck, died. At this occasion Schütz composed Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt (SWV 94). It is one of the relatively few pieces which is based on a hymn in the Lutheran tradition, but Schütz treats it in a rather free manner. It is quoted in the first of the 18 stanzas but in the following only now and then fragments of the melody turn up. The scoring is for five voices and bc. There can be little doubt that this was intended for a performance with solo voices as most stanzas are for two or three voices. That is how it is performed here.

The disc ends with another funeral song, this time at the occasion of the death of Anna Margarethe Brehme in September 1652. She was the wife of Christian Brehme - who himself had written the text -, the librarian of the Dresden court and for many years the town's mayor. It is a simple chorale in five stanzas, sung here a cappella by the choir. It is an opportunity for the Dresden Kammerchor to show its skills in regard to text interpretation. Rademann emphasizes key words in the text in a most effective way, and the articulation is outstanding.

The performance of the Musicalische Exequien is not the best available. The significance of this disc is in particular the inclusion of four pieces which have never been recorded before. That is also a convincing argument in favour of a recording project like this. Moreover, in single recordings there is a good chance that you get only a couple of the stanzas of long pieces. The very fact that this edition aims to include everything that Schütz has written, guarantees that pieces like Grimmige Gruft and Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt, are performed complete.

Johan van Veen (© 2012)

Relevant links:

Dresdner Kammerchor

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