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Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585 - 1672): Cantiones Sacrae (SWV 53-93)

Dresdner Kammerchor
Frauke Hess, violone; Ludger Rémy, organ
Dir: Hans-Christoph Rademann

rec: Feb 13 - 17, 2012, Radeberg, Stadtkirche 'Zum Heiligen Namen Gottes'
Carus - 83.252 (2 CDs) (© 2012) (1.48'30")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

O bone, o dulcis o benigne Jesu (1. Pars) (SWV 53); Et ne despicias humiliter te petentem (2. Pars) (SWV 54); Deus misereator nostri (SWV 55); Quid commisisti, o dulcissime puer (1. Pars) (SWV 56); Ego sum tui plaga doloris (2. Pars) (SWV 57); Ego enim inique egi (3. Pars) (SWV 58); Quo, nate Dei, quo tua descendit (4. Pars) (SWV 59); Calicem salutaris accipiam (5. et ultima Pars) (SWV 60); Verba mea auribus percipe, Domine (1. Pars) (SWV 61); Quoniam ad te clamabo, Domine (2. Pars) (SWV 62); Ego dormio, et cor meum vigilat (1. Pars) (SWV 63); Vulnerasti cor meum, filia charissima (2. Pars) (SWV 64); Heu mihi, Domine, quia peccavi nimis (SWV 65); In te, Domine, speravi (SWV 66); Dulcissima et benignissime Christe (SWV 67); Sicut Moses serpentem in deserto exaltavit (SWV 68); Spes mea, Christe Deus, hominum tu dulcis amator (SWV 69); Turbabor, sed non perturbabor (SWV 70); Ad Dominum cum tribularer clamavi (1. Pars) (SWV 71); Quid detur tibi aut quid apponatur tibi (2. Pars) (SWV 72); Aspice pater piissimum filium (1. Pars) (SWV 73); Nonne hic est, mi Domine (2. Pars) (SWV 74); Reduc, Domine Deus meus (3. Pars) (SWV 75); Supereminet omnem scientiam (1. Pars) (SWV 76); Pro hoc magno mysterio pietatis (2. Pars) (SWV 77); Domine, non est exaltatum cor meum (1. Pars) (SWV 78); Si non humiliter sentiebam (2. Pars) (SWV 79); Speret Israel in Domino (3. Pars) (SWV 80); Cantate Dominum canticum novum (SWV 81); Inter brachia Salvatoris mei (SWV 82); Veni, rogo, in cor meum (SWV 83); Ecce advocatus meus apud te, Deus patrem (SWV 84); Domine, ne in furore tuo arguas me (1. Pars) (SWV 85); Quoniam non est in morte (2. Pars a 3) (SWV 86); Discedite a me omnes qui operamini (3. Pars) (SWV 87); Oculi omnium in te sperant, Domine (1. Pars) (SWV 88); Pater noster, qui es in coelis (2. Pars) (SWV 89); Domine Deus, pater coelestis (3. Pars) (SWV 90); Confitemini Domino, quoniam ipse bonus (1. Pars) (SWV 91); Pater noster, qui es in coelis (2. Pars) (SWV 92); Gratias agimus tibi, Domine Deus Pater (3. Pars) (SWV 93)

Heinrich Schütz was without any doubt the most important and most dominant composer in 17th-century Germany. He was called "the most excellent musician of his time" and when he was still at the early stages of his career Landgrave Moritz the Learned of Hesse and Prince Elector Johann Georg I of Saxony became involved in a quarrel about whom Schütz was to serve. The latter was the most powerful and therefore ended up the winner. Schütz started to work at the court in Dresden in 1615, and would later be appointed Kapellmeister.

From the start of his career he was strongly influenced by the music he had heard and studied in Italy. He finished his studies with Giovanni Gabrieli with the publication of a collection of madrigals. During his whole career he held his former teacher in high esteem, and until the end of his life he was a strong advocate of counterpoint. At the same time he was open to new developments, for instance the stile nuovo which developed in Italy in the early decades of the 17th century. In particular in his three collections with Symphoniae Sacrae and the two volumes of Geistliche Konzerte he showed how much he had embraced the concertante style in vogue in Italy.

The Cantiones Sacrae, printed in 1625, suggest that they are written in the stile antico. The scoring is for four voices without any instruments. In the printed edition Schütz added a part for basso continuo, but that was at the request of the publisher. In all but four of the motets the basso continuo part has the character of a basso seguente. In the preface Schütz explains that these motets were written at various stages of his career. This means that the collection was not planned beforehand, and that throws doubts about the suggestion by Oliver Geissler in the liner-notes that it has a "central theological train of thought". Schütz took most texts from the Precationes, a then popular prayer book by the Lutheran theologian Andreas Musculus, which included biblical texts and free poetry.

The character of the motets reflects the different times of composing. Some are written in the stile antico; one of the most striking examples is Supereminet omnem scientiam which begins as a fugue and is dominated by imitative polyphony. At the other end of the spectrum we find pieces like Heu mihi, Domine and Cantate Domino canticum novum which show strong influences of the stile nuovo. These are not very different from the sacred concertos Schütz would compose later in his career. There are many examples of text illustration through the use of musical figures. In the above-mentioned Supereminet omnem scientiam the word "tremunt" (tremble) is depicted by a tremolo; "infunde" (pour) (Dulcissime et benignissime Christe) is illustrated by a rhythmically vivid figure, and the opening "turbabor" (I am agitated) in Turbabor, sed non perturbabor is also effectively exposed. Contrasts in the text are set to opposing figures: "I sleep, but my heart waketh" (Ego dormio), "I desire both to live and to die" (Inter brachia Salvatoris mei). In some motets a phrase is repeated at different pitches in order to emphasize its meaning. Careful listening with the text in the booklet at hand will reveal many passages which show why Schütz had the nickname of musicus poeticus. The quality and historical importance of this collection of motets makes it hard to understand that they are so seldom performed and recorded.

If they are performed it is mostly with a choir. That is also the case here: the Dresdner Kammerchor comprises 18 voices. Only the four motets with a real basso continuo part are performed with solo voices. The character of these motets clearly suggests a performance with one voice per part. The soloists from the choir sing them pretty well, although not every voice is fully up to the task. Some more 'old-fashioned' motets come off rather well with a choral performance, but for musical and historical reasons solo voices are generally preferable. Heu mihi, Domine is an example of a motet which doesn't really satisfy here, also because the tempo is a bit too slow. The texts and the character of these motets point in the direction of performances in domestic surroundings rather than in a church. They could be intended as Tafelmusik, music to be performed during dinner. This seems to be confirmed by the closing motets, which are graces, and include a setting of the Lord's Prayer, which is to be sung as the second part of Oculi omnium in te sperant and again following Confitemini Domino.

The singing is mostly pretty good, and as a choral performance this recording can be recommended. Much attention has been paid to the text; the delivery is rather good. Historically untenable is the use of the Italian pronunciation of Latin. I don't understand why this aspect is still often ignored. On balance I would prefer a performance with one voice per part, and I recommend the recording by Weser-Renaissance (CPO, 1996).

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

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