musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585 - 1672): Psalmen Davids (SWV 22-47)

Dorothee Mields, Marie Luise Werneburg soprano; David Erler, Stefan Kunath, alto; Georg Poplutz, Tobias Mäthger, tenor; Stephan MacLeod, Felix Schwandtke, bass
Dresdner Kammerchor; Dresdner Barockorchester
Dir: Hans-Christoph Rademann

rec: Oct 14 - 17, 2012, Radeberg, Stadtkirche 'Zum Heiligen Namen Gottes'
Carus - 83.255 (2 CDs) (© 2013) (2.21'25")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover & track-list

Der Herr sprach zu meinem Herrn (SWV 22); Warum toben die Heiden (SWV 23); Ach Herr, straf mich nicht in deinem Zorn (SWV 24); Aus der Tiefe ruf ich, Herr, zu dir (SWV 25); Ich freu mich des, das mir geredt ist (SWV 26); Herr, unser Herrscher (SWV 27); Wohl dem, der nicht wandelt im Rat der Gottlosen (SWV 28); Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen (SWV 29); Wohl dem, der de Herren fürchtet (SWV 30); Ich hebe meine Augen auf zu den Bergen (SWV 31); Danket dem Herren, denn er ist freundlich (SWV 32); Der Herr ist mein Hirt (SWV 33); Ich danke dem Herrn von ganzem Herzen (SWV 34); Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (SWV 35); Jauchzet dem Herren, alle Welt (SWV 36); An den Wassern zu Babel (SWV 37); Alleluja! Lobet den Herren in seinem Heiligtum (SWV 38); Lobe den Herren, meine Seele (SWV 39); Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn (SWV 40); Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren (SWV 41); Die mit Tränen säen (SWV 42); Nicht uns, Herr, sondern deinem Namen (SWV 43); Wohl dem, der den Herren fürchtet (SWV 44); Danket dem Herren, denn er ist freundlich (SWV 45)a; Zion spricht: der Herr hat mich verlassen (SWV 46); Jauchzet dem Herren, alle Welt (SWV 47)

Source: Psalmen Davids sampt etlichen Moteten und Concerten, op. 2, 1619

[DK] Sandra Bernhardt, Birgit Jacobi, Isabel Jantschek, Sara Schneyer, Friederike Thorn, Nicola Zöllner, soprano; Bernadette Beckermann, Franziska Neumann, Inga Philipp, Maria Stosiek, contralto; Claudius Pobbig, Cenek Svoboda, Ben Uhle, Markus Klose, tenor; Hubertus Gläßer, Philipp Kaven, Georg Preißler, Martin Schicketanz, bass
[DB] Anna Schall, recorder, cornett; Friederike Otto, Thomas Friedlaender, cornett; Margret Baumgartl, Karina Müller, violin; Frauke Hess, Juliane Laake, Doris Runge, viola da gamba; Matthias Müller, violone; Cas Gevers, Sebastian Krause, Ercole Nisini, Kentaro Wada, sackbut; Clemens Schlemmer, dulcian; Stefan Maass, Stephan Rath, theorbo; Michaela Hasselt, organ
Robert Schlegl, Thomas Friedlaender, trumpeta; Adam Bregmann, Kantaro Wada, Karel Mnuk, sackbuta; Gerhardt Hundt, timpania

The collection of sacred concertos which Heinrich Schütz published in 1619 under the title of Psalmen Davids is his second; the first was the set of madrigals on Italian texts which were the direct result of his studies with Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice. 1619 was also the year of his marriage. Together with the invitations for the wedding Schütz sent copies of his Psalmen Davids. They were dedicated to his employer, Johann Georg I, Prince-Elector of Saxony; he had entered his service in 1617 as organist and musical director, but from the start he took over the duties of the ailing Kapellmeister, Rogier Michael.

It is assumed that the Psalmen Davids are a compilation of pieces Schütz had written since his return from Venice in 1613. This partly explains that all the pieces follow the Venetian habit of writing for cori spezzati. In some cases we know for which occasion they were composed: Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren (SWV 41), Nicht uns, Herr (SWV 43) and Danket dem Herrn, denn er ist freundlich (SWV 45) were written for the celebrations of the hundredth anniversary of the Reformation in 1617. It is assumed that other pieces may have been composed for the same occasion. An early version of Jauchzet dem Herren, alle Welt (SWV 36) is found in a manuscript in Kassel, dating from 1614/15.

The large scorings for voices - divided into favoriti and capellae - and instruments suggests that these pieces were not intended for performances in regular services as were held in the court chapel, bur rather for special occasions by highly-skilled and well-equipped chapels. From that perspective it is questionable whether Hans-Christoph Rademann's statement in his remarks about the performance that "the dimensions of the Castle Church in Dresden as the most important surviving original location have been greatly overrated" has any relevance. The Stadtkirche in Radeberg "is very similar to this space in its basic dimensions (...)". Maybe a larger venue would have been more appropriate after all.

In his preface Schütz specifically refers to his teacher Gabrieli and states that his Psalmen Davids are written in the "Italian manner". On the one hand this regards the use of the cori spezzati technique and probably also the participation of instruments, on the other hand it concerns Schütz' treatment of the text which shows the influence of the Italian madrigal style. The music is in the service of the text and follows precisely its speaking rhythm. It lends these pieces a strongly declamatory character. This is what Schütz meant when he stated that they are set in the stile recitativo. This doesn't refer to the Italian monody of the likes of Caccini, let alone the recitative as it emerged at the end of the 17th century. The most striking examples of this stile recitativo appear in the setting of Psalm 84, Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen(SWV 29) and also in Psalm 137, An den Wassern zu Babel (SWV 37).

If one listens to these Psalm settings one will notice many specimens of eloquent text illustration, such as the imitation of instruments by the voices in Jauchzet dem Herrn, alle Welt (SWV 47). Danket dem Herrn, denn er ist freundlich (SWV 45) is an example of an effective dialogue between soli and tutti, which could well reflect the practice in the Jewish temple liturgy in the time of the Old Testament. Around 1600 the use of the echo became quite popular, for instance in keyboard music and later in opera. Schütz applies this technique in his setting of Jauchzet dem Herren, alle Welt (SWV 36) in which the second choir echoes the first. The high and low registers of the voices are also used as a way to expose the meaning of a text. The former is a little compromised by the choice of a relatively low pitch (a=440 Hz) whereas it seems very likely that these pieces were to be performed at the then common high Chorton. The low registers are effectively explored in the setting of Psalm 6, Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht in deinem Zorn (SWV 24).

The choice of Psalm texts is not a matter of coincidence. Martin Luther rated the Book of Psalms very highly, and considered it a 'little Bible', a synopsis of the whole Bible. In liturgical practice the ministers had much more freedom in choosing the Psalms to be sung during the service than was common in the church before the Reformation. This collection includes some pieces on other texts. Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn (SWV 40) is a setting of Jeremiah 31, vs 20 and Zion spricht: Der Herr hat mich verlassen (SWV 46) is based on Isaiah 49, vs 14-16. Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren (SWV 41) is an arrangement of a chorale by Johann Gramann on a melody by Johann Kugelmann (1540). It is one of the rare chorale-based compositions in Schütz' oeuvre.

It is hard to say exactly how these Psalms should be performed. As we don't know exactly where and at which occasions they might have been sung, it is impossible to know for sure how many singers and/or instruments were involved. Schütz gives indications in regard to scoring, but it is questionable whether he wanted performers to follow them exactly, or whether he rather intended them as suggestions. Today's performance practice shows considerable differences. Cantus Cölln (Harmonia mundi, 1998), for instance, only uses nine singers; the parts which the score refers to as cappella are performed with instruments, even those which have a text. Rademann adds a choir of 18 voices which sing the cappella parts. In the pieces which are scored for two choirs and bc he sometimes uses solo voices and sometimes the choir. Instruments are either used to play colla voce or as substitutes for some of the voices.

This recording is part of Carus' Schütz Edition; this is the 8th volume. The previous volumes have all been reviewed on this site, and in almost every case I have been quite critical as I found many positive things but felt that the interpretations just fell short of being excellent. These performances of the Psalmen Davids belong to the best of the project so far. The soloists are all outstanding and the blending of the solo voices and their integration into the ensemble as a whole is very good. The text is given the attention it needs, and the declamatory character of these Psalm settings is well observed. Only now and then the articulation could have been sharper and the dynamic contrasts stronger. The tempi are rather moderate; Frieder Bernius (Sony, 1992) - whose choir comprises 29 voices - is considerably faster, whereas Cantus Cölln's performances are more or less comparable with Rademann's. I could imagine faster tempi, in the service of stronger contrasts and a greater amount of drama, but I mostly didn't experience them as too slow.

On balance, this is a good recording in which the character and quality of Schütz' Psalmen Davids is convincingly exposed.

Johan van Veen (© 2014)

Relevant links:

Dresdner Kammerchor
Dresdner Barockorchester

CD Reviews