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Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585 - 1672): Kleine Geistliche Konzerte I (SWV 282-305)

Ulrike Hofbauera, Dorothee Mieldsb, soprano; David Erlerc, Alexander Schneiderd, alto; Tobias Mäthgere, Georg Poplutzf, tenor; Felix Schwandtkeg, Cornelius Uhleh, Andreas Wolfi, bass; Marie-Luise Werneburg, Maria Stosiek, Franziska Neumann, Tobias Mäthger, Felix Schwandtke, cappellaj; Matthias Müller, viola da gamba, violonek; Stefan Maass, theorbol; Ludger Rémy, organ
Dir: Ludger Rémy

rec: Sept 20 - 25, 2012, Zwönitz, Trinitatiskirche
Carus - 83.254 (© 2013) (71'32")
Liner-notes: E (abridged)/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover & track-list

Eile mich, Gott, zu erretten (SWV 282)b; Bringt her dem Herren (SWV 283)akl; Ich danke dem Herrn von ganzem Herzen (SWV 284)ckl; O süßer, o freundlicher (SWV 285)f; Der Herr ist groß (SWV 286)abkl; O lieber Herre Gott (SWV 287)abkl; Ihr Heiligen, lobsinget dem Herren (SWV 288)abkl; Erhöre mich, wenn ich rufe (SWV 289)abkl; Wohl dem, der nicht wandelt im Rat der Gottlosen (SWV 290)bckl; Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein reines Herz (SWV 291)bfkl; Der Herr schauet vom Himmel (SWV 292)aikl; Lobet den Herren, der zu Zion wohnet (SWV 293)cdl; Eins bitte ich vom Herren (SWV 294)efkl; O hilf, Christe, Gottes Sohn (SWV 295)efkl; Fürchte dich nicht, ich bin mit dir (SWV 296)hil; O Herr hilf, o Herr lass wohl gelingen (SWV 297)abfkl; Das Blut Jesu Christi (SWV 298)abi; Die Gottseligkeit ist zu allen Dingen nütz (SWV 299)abi; Himmel und Erden vergehen (SWV 300)ghil; Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (SWV 301)abfgkl; Ein Kind ist uns geboren (SWV 302)bcfikl; Wir gläuben all an einen Gott (SWV 303)abfikl; Siehe, mein Fürsprecher ist im Himmel (SWV 304)bcfijkl; Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt (SWV 305)abcfikl

In 1636 Heinrich Schütz came up with something new: sacred pieces for one or several solo voices and basso continuo, without any additional instruments, the Kleine Geistliche Konzerte. In his first collection of Symphoniae Sacrae he had already written music for solo voices. That collection was printed in Venice, and that can hardly have been coincidental. In 1628/29 Schütz had visited Italy for the second time. In his formative years he had stayed in Venice for several years to study with Giovanni Gabrieli. He had a lasting influence on his German pupil, and this was reflected not only in his madrigals, which were printed in 1611 in Venice, but also in his Psalmen Davids of 1619, especially in regard to the use of the cori spezzati technique. The second visit was motivated by his wish "to investigate myself the new manner of music which has emerged and is in practice today".

It seems very likely that he met Claudio Monteverdi. He was certainly acquainted with Monteverdi's oeuvre and also knew the music of Alessandro Grandi, who for a number of years was the latter's colleague in San Marco in Venice. This acquaintance resulted in Schütz adapting some of Grandi's sacred concertos to a German text. Grandi was one of the exponents of the writing for solo voices. Although Schütz kept some distance from the most radical applications of the 'concertante' style, for instance the stile concitato, he embraced the writing for solo voices. He was not the first in Germany to compose in this manner: his colleague and friend Johann Hermann Schein had published sacred concertos for solo voices in 1618 (Opella Nova). It seems likely that Schütz was also inspired by the German edition of the Cento concerti ecclesiastici by the Italian composer Lodovico Grossi da Viadana in 1609. These were originally published in 1602 and were the very first sacred concertos for solo voice in Italy. As Schütz always paid much attention to the text - which brought him the nickname musicus poeticus - this form was in fact very much in line with his ideals. Solo voices were the ideal medium to communicate a text.

There were not only musical reasons for the publication of the Kleine Geistliche Konzerte. Schütz had also to deal with the effects of the Thirty Years War. This resulted in a reduction of the number of singers and instrumentalists available: some were taking part as soldiers in the war, others had become victims of the war. Moreover, the war had a disastrous effect on the economy, and many chapels were reduced out of necessity. Around 1630 Schütz had already noted that singers were scarce. With his Kleine Geistliche Konzerte he made a virtue of necessity. In 1639 he published a second collection of this kind of pieces.

The texts are mostly from the Bible, especially the Book of Psalms: eleven of the 24 concertos. Five pieces are on other biblical texts, two texts are from the pen of St Augustine, O lieber Herr Gott is an Advent Offertory and four are settings of stanzas from hymns. The latter is remarkable as Lutheran chorales otherwise don't take a prominent place in Schütz's oeuvre. The scoring is different: four pieces are for solo voice, eleven are for two voices - mostly two equal voices, just two for soprano and alto or tenor respectively. Four concertos are for three voices, two sopranos and tenor or bass respectively, except Himmel und Erden vergehen, which has the remarkable scoring of three basses. Four pieces are for four voices: two with the most common combination of SATB, whereas Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland is for two sopranos and two basses and Wir gläuben all an einen Gott is scored for two sopranos, tenor and bass. Ich hab mein Sach Gott heimgestellt, one of the hymn settings, is the only piece for five voices. In the latter concerto and in Siehe, mein Fürsprecher ist im Himmel, Schütz suggest the addition of a cappella, ripienists which double the solo voices. This suggestion is followed in the present recording.

The scoring in this collection gives plenty of opportunities to depict words and phrases in the music, and Schütz doesn't miss them. Attentive listening to these concertos will reveal some, but one will probably not note all of them. The more one listens to this kind of music - by Schütz, but also by his German contemporaries - the more one will recognize. It is essential that the singers are aware of this and pay the utmost attention to the delivery. The singers in this recording have understood that very well, and the text is always easy to understand and well articulated. The voices also blend perfectly. All in all, there is almost nothing to criticize here, apart from the fact that Dorothee Mields has a bit of a false start with a vibrato-laden first line in Eile mich, Gott, zu erretten.

Even so, I feel that the depth of these concertos is not fully explored. The devil is in the details, and at various moments I thought that the performers missed the point. Eile mich, Gott, zu erretten is a bit too fast in the beginning and as a result the text has little impact. O süßer, o freundlicher ends with the phrase "and see thy majesty and thy glory" which is the culmination of the piece, and that doesn't really come off. The tempi are often a bit fast, and dynamic shading is too limited. I also think that there is too little ornamentation, and the treatment of this aspect is not very consistent.

So, despite all its qualities, this is a good but not ideal recording of Schütz's Kleine Geistliche Konzerte.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

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