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Samuel SCHEIDT (1587 - 1654): Sacred music

[I] "Sacred Concertos"
Knut Schoch, tenora
I Sonatori
rec: August 1 - 3, 2016, Bremen, Studio Radio Bremen
Christophorus - CHR 77411 (© 2017) (69'03")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Melchior FRANCK (1580-1639): Prediget von den Gerechtena [7]; Wenn ewer Sünd gleich blutroth ista [7]; Andreas HAMMERSCHMIDT (1611-1675): Sei nun wieder zufriedena [8]; Vinco JELIC (1596-1636): Ricercar I [1]; Johann Erasmus KINDERMANN (1616-1655): Die Güte des Herrena [10]; Sonata a violino solo No. 3 [11]; Samuel SCHEIDT: Cantio Sacra Christ lag in Todesbanden (1. Versus) (SSWV 131)b [2]; Christ lag in Todesbanden (SSWV 303)a [5]; Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund (SSWV 238)a [4]; Die Güte des Herren (SSWV 267)a [6]; Komm, heiliger Geist (SSWV 311)a [5]; Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin (SSWV 392)a [5]; Psalmus in die Nativitatis Christi (Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ) (SSWV 135) (1. Versus; 2. Versus)b [2]; Vom Himmel hoch, da komm ich her - 2. Pars: Euch ist ein Kindlein heut geborn (SSWV 290 & 291)a [5]; Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern (SSWV 185)a [3]; Thomas SELLE (1599-1663): Gen Himmel zu dem Vater mein [12]; Bartolomeo DE SELMA Y SALAVERDE (c1590-c1640): Canzon XI a 2 [9]; Canzon XVI a 2 [9]; Vestiva i colli passeggiato [9]; Vestiva i colli passeggiato a 2 [9]

Sources: [1] Vinco Jelic, Parnassia militia, 1622; Samuel Scheidt, [2] Tabulatura Nova II, 1624 [3] Geistliche Concerte, I, 1631; [4] Geistliche Concerte, II, 1634; [5] Geistliche Concerte, III, 1635; [6] Liebliche Kraftblümelein, 1635; [7] Melchior Franck, Paradisus musicus, 1636; [8] Andreas Hammerschmidt, Musicalische Andachten, 1638; [9] Bartolomeo de Selma y Salaverde, Canzoni, Fantasie et Correnti, 1638; Johann Erasmus Kindermann, [10] Musicalische Friedens Seufftzer, 1642; [11] Canzoni Sonatae, 1653; [12] Thomas Selle, Opera omnia, 1653

Christa Kittel, violin; Ursula Bruckdorfer, dulcian; Haralt Martens, violone; Isolde Kittel-Zerer, organ

[II] "Cantiones Sacrae - Motets"
Athesinus Consort Berlin
Dir: Klaus-Martin Bresgott
rec: June 23 - 26, 2017, Berlin-Oberschöneweide, Christuskirche
Carus - 83.488 (© 2017) (74'24")
Liner-notes: E/D; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet

Samuel SCHEIDT: Christ lag in Todesbanden (SSWV 22); Gelobet seist du, Jesu Christ (SSWV 11); Gott, der Vater, wohn uns bei (SSWV 17); Herr, wie lange willst du mein so gar vergessen (1. Teil) - Wie lang soll sich mein Feind (2. Teil) - Ich hoffe aber darauf (3. Teil) (SSWV 1 - 3); Herzlich lieb hab ich dich (1. Teil) - Und wenn mir gleich mein Herz zerbricht (2. Teil) (SSWV 28 & 29); Ich hebe meine Augen auf zu den Bergen (1. Teil) - Siehe, der Hüter Israels (2. Teil) (SSWV 4 & 5); Lobet, ihr Himmel den Herren (1. Teil) - Lobet den Herren auf Erden (2. Teil) (SSWV 35 & 36); Lobet den Herren, denn er ist sehr freundlich (SSWV 27); Lobet den Herren in seinem Heiligtum (SSWV 37); Nun danket alle Gott (1. Teil) - Er gebe uns ein fröhliches Herz (2. Teil) (SSWV 30 & 31); Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (SSWV 12); Frank SCHWEMMER (*1961): Die Stimme meines Freundes (2016)

Source: Samuel Scheidt, Cantiones Sacrae, 1620

Ulrike Barth, Katja Kunze, soprano; Alexandra A. Lachmann, mezzo-soprano; Katharina Padrok, Wiebke Kretzschmar, contralto; Thomas A. Volle, Stephan M. Gähler, tenor; Matthias Jahrmärker, baritone; Stefan Q. Drexlmeier, Christoph J. Drescher, bass
Lea Rahel Bader, Alexander Nicholls, cello; Arno Schneider, organ

Samuel Scheidt is one of the great German composers of the 17th century. He was called in the same breath as Heinrich Schütz and Johann Hermann Schein, for instance by the composer and writer Wolfgang Caspar Printz (1641-1717), who labelled them "three great S's". Today they fare rather differently in music life. Most of Heinrich Schütz's music is available on disc, and some of his works are performed regularly, for instance his Musicalische Exequien and his Christmas and Easter oratorios. Schein is best known for his collection of sacred madrigals, Israelis Brünlein. In contrast, Scheidt is almost exclusively known in his capacity as a composer of organ music, which reflect the influence of his teacher Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck. Notable is the fact that a substantial part of his keyboard music was published, in three volumes under the title Tabulatura Nova. Although Schein and Schütz did not write any music for keyboard, there is much similarity between the three masters. That especially concerns the way they dealt with the newest fashions in music, which emerged in Italy and disseminated across large parts of the continent. All three held the traditional polyphony, the so-called stile antico, in high esteem. At the same time they embraced the monodic style, propagated by the likes of Caccini, Monteverdi and Grandi.

Scheidt spent most of his life in Halle, where he was born and where he also died. He attended the local Gymnasium, where he probably received his first musical education. It seems that he went to Amsterdam to study with Sweelinck by 1608. By the end of 1609 he returned to Halle as court organist to the new administrator, Margrave Christian Wilhelm of Brandenburg. Here he became acquainted with the English violist William Brade, who for a short time acted as Kapellmeister; Scheidt succeeded him after his departure in 1619/20. In the next five years he expanded the court chapel and published several collections of music, including the above-mentioned Tabulatura Nova. When Christian Wilhelm decided to join the Protestant forces in the Thirty Years War, Halle suffered severely, and so did the court chapel. Scheidt did not receive a salary, and most musicians looked for employment elsewhere. It was probably thanks to his activities as a teacher that he was able to survive. In 1636 the town was hit by the plague, and Scheidt lost his four children. With the Peace of Westphalia of 1638 Scheidt returned to his former position and started to publish music again.

Considering that Scheidt's vocal music is not that well represented on disc the two productions under review here deserve a whole-hearted welcome. They show that there is much to discover in Scheidt's oeuvre. Hopefully we will see more of this part of his output in recordings in the near future.

The choice of pieces is very different. I Sonatori focuses on small-scale sacred concertos, either in entirely free style or based on hymns, which are the effect of Luther's efforts to make the congregation sing. Gundula Bobeth, in her liner-notes, argues that the major role of hymn tunes in Scheidt's vocal oeuvre could explain why it is not that frequently performed, as chorales - as they are often called - are associated with the style of the past. She could be right, but other parts of Scheidt's vocal oeuvre have not fared any better. Moreover, Michael Praetorius already showed that hymns can be adapted to any musical style. Almost his entire sacred output is based on hymns, and in his arrangement of these hymns he incorporated the latest trends of his time, both the Venetian polychorality - still part of the stile antico - and the monodic style which was one of the hallmarks of the stile nuovo. Scheidt followed in his footsteps. In the pieces recorded by I Sonatori the monodic style is mixed with counterpoint The pieces sung here by a solo voice are in fact scored for three voices: soprano, tenor and bass. The two remaining voices are performed instrumentally. Scheidt treats the hymns in a way which allows him to illustrate elements of the text, for instance by breaking a line into pieces, which are repeated or changed melodically and rhythmically. Scheidt also uses harmonic progressions to highlight particular emotional moments, as comes to the fore, for instance, in Da Jesus an dem Kreuze stund. An example of a sacred concerto which consists entirely of original material is Die Güte des Herrn, in which he dwells on the penultimate line: "weeping may endure for a night", in which the word 'weeping' ("Weinen") is set to a long melisma and is repeated a number of times. In addition harmony is used to express the meaning of the words. The piece then ends with "but joy cometh in the morning"; the contrast in mood is explored to the full.

I Sonatori does not confine itself to music by Scheidt and includes pieces by some of his contemporaries. The choice of instrumental items by Bartolomeo de Selma y Salaverde is a bit odd, as he was from Spain and worked for some time in Innsbruck; there is no connection to Scheidt and his circle whatsoever. At the same time these pieces are impressive demonstrations of the art of ornamentation, which was one of the features of the stile nuovo. To a certain extent they are the counterpart to the vocal pieces by Scheidt and other German composers represented here. These share Scheidt's fate in that little of their output is available on disc. In recent years several discs with music by Andreas Hammerschmidt have been released, which justifies the conclusion that we see an increase in interest in his oeuvre. Thomas Selle also receives more attention than in the past, but Melchior Franck and Johann Erasmus Kindermann are still more or less unknown quantities. In Franck's oeuvre we meet the same mixture of polyphony and monody as in the oeuvre of the great S's. Notable in his concerto Prediget von den Gerechten is the use of harmony to depict the word "boshaftig" (malevolent).

As much as I have enjoyed the music, I am slightly disappointed about the performances. The playing is excellent, but I am not that impressed by Knut Schoch's singing. In addition to a slight vibrato his voice is a bit harsh and not very flexible. His performances are rather straightforward, with too little dynamic differentiation, not only between notes but also on held notes. Even more surprising is the general lack of ornamentation. Only here and there he adds some ornaments, but on many occasions he sings the music as it is written and repeats phrases unaltered. This seems to me a major shortcoming. Although from a historical point of view there may be no objection against an instrumental performance of some of the vocal parts in Scheidt's concertos, I would have preferred their being sung.

The second disc sheds light on the other side of Italian influence in Scheidt's sacred oeuvre: the use of the cori spezzati technique. The Athesinus Consort Berlin offers a selection from the Cantiones Sacrae, a collection of 38 motets for eight voices in two choirs of 1620.

There is much variety within the collection as far as the choice of texts is concerned. Twelve motets are on Latin texts, 26 are in the vernacular. A number of motets are settings of biblical texts, especially from the Book of Psalms, but Scheidt also used traditional responsories, dating from pre-Reformation times, and a number of hymns in the Lutheran tradition. His treatment of the latter is not fundamentally different from that in the sacred concertos, which are included on the first disc. The various lines are broken up, which allows Scheidt to emphasize elements in the text through repetition as well as melodic and rhythmic variation. This is one of the categories within the collection on which Bresgott has chosen to focus, the other being settings of Psalms.

The cori spezzati technique is used in various ways. In Venice choirs were often split into two or more groups, sometimes of equal constitution (SATB), sometimes of a different line-up (for instance: SSAT vs ATBB). Both options are explored by Scheidt in his Cantiones Sacrae. The two choirs sing phrases in alternation, only to join for some parts of the text. In the 2. pars of Lobet, ihr Himmel, den Herren (Lobet den Herren auf Erden, SWWV 36) the second choir repeats the phrases of Choir I, as a kind of echo, a popular device at the time, also in the organ works of the North German organ school, of which Scheidt was a representative. On the words "alle seine Heiligen" (all his saints) the two choirs join for obvious reasons.

Klaus-Martin Bresgott, in his liner-notes, observes a difference between Scheidt on the one hand and Schütz and Schein on the other. Although there is text expression (Schütz) and 'italianate' Affekt (Schein) in his motets, Scheidt "is more concerned with the moment of musical architecture and with contrapuntal setting techniques. His treatment of the text does not lack gleams of charm and emotionally moving moments, but it is more restrained than that of Schütz and Schein". This is probably based on a broad analysis of Scheidt's oeuvre and especially the Cantiones Sacrae. It is beyond the scope of this review to dwell on this, but in general I would emphasize that it largely depends on what kind of music one does compare. Obviously one cannot compare motets for double choir with sacred madrigals like, for instance, Schein's Israelis Brünlein. The intelligibility of the text is a major challenge for any composer of music for two choirs.

The pieces recorded here include plenty of text expression. In the 2. pars of Herr, wie lange willst du mein so gar vergessen (Wie lang soll sich mein Feind, SWWV 2) the words "schau doch" (consider) are repeated several times, a strong rhetorical gesture to get the attention of the listener (God). The word "entschlafe" (sleep) and the phrase "mein Herz freuet sich" (my heart shall rejoice) (3. Pars: Ich hoffe aber darauf, SWWV 3) are eloquently depicted. An impressive example of text expression is Ich hebe meine Augen auf (SWWV 4 & 5), a setting of Psalm 121. It opens with an ascending line, which explores the highest register of the soprano voice, illustrating the words "I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills". In his collection Scheidt explores the very ends of the tessitura of both the soprano and the bass voice, which makes some of his motets technically demanding. The programme ends with a setting of Psalm 150, Lobet den Herren in seinem Heiligtum (SWWV 37), and here the voices effectively imitate the sound of the instruments mentioned: trumpet, psaltery, harp and timpani.

Rather than confining himself to Scheidt's motets or adding music from the composer's time, Bresgott decided to add a piece by a contemporary composer. Frank Schwemmer's Die Stimme meines Freundes of 2016 is a setting in two parts of texts from the Song of Songs and the Proverbs, embraced by preludes and postludes for cello solo. I won't assess this piece, as I have neither interest in nor any understanding of contemporary music. For those, who - like me - are not interested in this kind of repertoire it is useful to know that these sections of this disc take about 14 minutes.

This leaves about on hour of splendid music by a composer who deserves more attention than he has received so far, at least as far as his vocal music is concerned. The Athesinus Consort comprises ten singers; the track-list does not specify which singers participate in which motet. I assume that all the motets are performed with one voice per part, which is probably most close to the performing conditions at the time, although a larger ensemble cannot be excluded. The use of two cellos in the basso continuo is regrettable. In Scheidt's time this instrument did not exist; a viola da gamba or violone would have been preferable, but it is questionable whether a string bass is needed at all. In some motets the cello is too clearly discernible. But the singing is very fine, and that is what matters most. The singers show a good feeling for this kind of repertoire and treat the text with utmost respect. As a result it is clearly intelligible and the expression comes off well.

Despite some points of criticism I would like to recommend both discs. They are meaningful additions to a discography which unfortunately is not very impressive.

Johan van Veen (© 2018)

Relevant links:

Knut Schoch
Athesinus Consort Berlin

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