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Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585 - 1672): St Luke Passion; Die Sieben Worte

Ulrike Hofbauer, sopranoa; Jan Kobow, tenorb
Dresdner Kammerchorc; The Sirius Violsd; Lee Santana, theorboe; Ludger Rémy, organf
Dir: Hans-Christoph Rademann

rec: April 17 - 21, 2012, Radeberg, Stadtkirche 'Zum Heiligen Namen Gottes'
Carus - 83.253 (© 2013) (71'06")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translation: E
Cover & track-list
Score SWV 447; Score SWV 480

Die sieben Wortte unsers lieben Erlösers und Seeligmachers Jesu Christi (SWV 478)abcdef; Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott (SWV 447)adef; Lukas-Passion (Historia des Leidens und Sterbens unsers Hern und Heilandes Jesu Christi nach dem Evangelisten St. Lukas) (SWV 480)bc

[Dresdner Kammerchor (*soli)] Birgit Jacobi, Sara Schneyer, Angelika Unger, Marie Luise Werneburg*, soprano; Uta Henke, Franziska Neumann, contralto; Stefan Kunath*, alto; Jörg Genslein*, Tobias Mäthger*, Claudius Pobbig*, tenor; Dirk Döbrich*, Georg Preißler*, Felix Rumpf*, Felix Schwandtke*, bass
[The Sirius Viols] Hille Perl, Julia Vetö, Juliane Laake, Sarah Perl, Frauke Hess, viola da gamba

The three Passions which Heinrich Schütz composed in the 1660s are remarkable works. Stylistically they surprise because they seem to be out of step with the fashion of the time. In his Passions the composer links up with the tradition of singing the story of Jesus' Passion and death choraliter, with voices alone, without the participation of instruments. They seem also to be in contradiction with the expressive style Schütz practised in many of his sacred works, and which was - certainly in the latter part of his career - influenced by the newest trends in Italian music. Because of their sobre character they are still largely neglected. They are not that often performed and the number of recordings is limited.

One of the features of Schütz's Passions is the lack of emotional involvement of the Evangelist. His part is purely narrative, and doesn't express any emotion. Often whole phrases are sung largely at the same pitch; the vocal line only derives from it when the text asks for it. That is the case, for instance, when the Evangelist tells about the inscription above Jesus' head - the vocal line moves upwards. The notes are all of the same length, and there is no text repetition. There is more expression in the roles of the various characters which appear in the Passion story. That is especially the case in the St Luke Passion, since this gospel includes more direct speech by participants in the story than the other gospels. The other emotional element consists of the turbae, the choruses of groups of people. Schütz has set them in such a way that the content is reflected in the music.

In this recording the roles are more or less reversed. With that I mean that the part of the Evangelist is probably a little too 'expressive', whereas the turbae are not expressive enough. Jan Kobow doesn't go as far as the performers of the Evangelist's part in the recordings if the St Luke and the St John Passion under the direction of Paul Hillier. However, there are several moments where he tends to emphasize elements in the text through inflections in dynamics and tempo. When he tells that Jesus cries loud, he also sings loudly, but he shouldn't. Felix Rumpf, in his account of the part of Jesus, comes closer to the ideal of an uninvolved narration. On the other hand, in particular the choruses are far too flat; their more emotional character is rather underexposed. Although the roles of the soliloquentes give some reason for expression, that should not be exaggerated. Those parts are largely satisfying. The general tempo of the performance of the St Luke Passion is rather slowish.

Jan Kobow's performance is not an unqualified success anyway. His diction is immaculate and every word is clearly audible. However, it is disappointing that his singing is marred by an incessant vibrato. I can't believe that this is deliberate, and rather suspect a less than optimal form during the recording sessions. Fortunately the other singers are free from this deficiency, but as the Evangelist has by far the most important part it is really damaging the overall impression of this recording.

Die sieben Worte unsers lieben Erlösers und Seligmachers Jesu Christi is a completely different work and dates from 1645. Here Schütz uses the tools which he had become acquainted with during his second visit in Italy and which he also used in, for instance, the Symphoniae Sacrae. It begins and ends with a tutti section, called Introitus and Conclusio respectively. They use the first and the last stanza from the hymn Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund, but not the traditional hymn melody. Schütz rather set them as five-part motets. The heart of the piece - embraced by instrumental sinfonias - are the seven words which Jesus spoke at the cross, taken from the four gospels. The words of Jesus are sung by a tenor, the narration of the Evangelist is allocated to a single voice - soprano, alto and tenor respectively - or set for four voices. In this work Schütz makes use of instruments - in this recording a consort of viols - and musical and textual repetition.

This work is the best item on this disc. The various soloists five fine performances and the tutti are also well sung by the Dresdner Kammerchor. The Sirius Viols provide expressive interpretations of the instrumental parts.

They also take part in the sacred concerto Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott which the booklet claims to have been recorded here for the first time. That is incorrect: it has been recorded at least twice, by the late Henri Ledroit with the Ricercar Consort (Ricercar, 1985) and by Robin Blaze with The Parley of Instruments (Hyperion, 1998). It is a very expressive composition for soprano and a consort of viols on the text of the first stanza from a rhymed version by Erhart Hegenwald (1524) of Psalm 51 (50), known in Latin as Miserere mei, Deus. The melody dates from the same year and this is one of the relatively rare occasions where Schütz makes use of a hymn melody as sung in the Lutheran church of his time. Ulrike Hofbauer sings the solo part beautifully, and adds considerable ornamentation. In this case I wonder whether that is correct, as this piece has the character of a consort song and the voice should probably be part of the ensemble rather than act as a 'soloist'.

On balance this is not the recording of the St Luke Passion I was hoping for. The Sieben Worte are given a good performance, but there are several other good recordings available. That is different in the case of the Passions. So far there are no really satisfying recordings on the market, and this disc doesn't suggest that this state of affairs is going to change soon.

Johan van Veen (© 2013)

Relevant links:

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