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Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585 - 1672): St Luke Passion (Historia des Leidens und Sterbens unsers Hern und Heilandes Jesu Christi nach dem Evangelisten St. Lukas) (SWV 480)

Johan Linderoth (Evangelist), tenor; Jakob Bloch Jespersen (Jesus), bass
Ars Nova Copenhagen
Dir: Paul Hillier

rec: April 10 - 11, 2007, Copenhagen, St. Pauls Church
Dacapo - 8.226019 (© 2009) (52'41")

Louise Skovbaech Korsholm, Else Torp [Die Magd], Hilde Ramnefjell Dolva, soprano; Ellen Marie Brink Christensen, Rikke Lender, Linnea Lomholt [1. Schächer], alto; Kasper Eliassen, Tomas Medici [1. Knecht, 2. Schächer], Poul Emborg [Petrus], tenor; Asger Lynge Petersen [2. Knecht], Henrik Lund Petersen [Pilatus], Thomas Kiörbye, bass

Heinrich Schütz composed three Passions which date from a time when the style in which they are written was out of date. In modern times they have been given few attention and not many recordings are available. What exactly is the reason that they are not often performed and recorded isn't that easy to figure out. Maybe the American musicologist Daniel R. Melamed, who has written the liner notes for this recording, is right in believing that modern audiences approach Passion music with "ears attuned to Bach's compositions". And when you expect to hear something similar in Schütz' Passions, it is very likely you are going to be disappointed.

At the court in Dresden where Schütz has worked most of his life it was usage to perform Passions choraliter. At the time of Schütz Passions were sung at three occasions: Sunday Judica, Sunday Palmarum (or Palm Sunday) and Good Friday. The Passions were sung according to the order in the Bible, and on Good Friday a Passion according to St John was performed. From this one may conclude that on Palm Sunday a Passion according to St Luke was sung.

The St Luke Passion is probably the earliest of the three Passions Schütz has written. It could date from as early as 1653. The text is that of the Gospel of St Luke. There are no arias or recitatives on a free poetic text nor any chorales. That in itself sets the Passions by Schütz apart from what we are used to hear in Passions by Bach, but also in other Passions from the 17th century, like those by Johann Theile or Thomas Selle.

The narrative of the Gospel is preceded by a short introduction which contains the title of the work: "The sufferings of our Lord Jesus Christ, as told by the holy Evangelist Luke". At the end comes the 'Beschluß' (conclusion): "He who honours God's suffering and often ponders his bitter death, will be well protected by his mercy here on earth, and there in eternal life". This conclusion is the only text which has a more reflective nature.

The heading and the conclusion are set polyphonically, and so are the turbae. They are in fact the least 'objective' parts of the Passions. Traditionally there were three solo singers in Passions like these. One sang the part of the Evangelist, a second the role of Jesus and the third took all the other roles. Schütz moves away from that tradition in that all the smaller roles are allocated to different singers.

In his liner notes Daniel Melamed emphasizes the detached character of the Passions. The soliloquents are not supposed to sing with a strong amount of expression. It was not Schütz' aim to move the audience, only to tell the story. "The Evangelist's words (...) are intoned in a kind of chant whose melodic contours are modest and whose largely unspecified rhythms are presumably meant to follow stylized speech. (...) In comparison to Bach's music the effect is stark and much less obviously expressive".

It is remarkable how some performances are at odds with what is written in the liner notes. That is also the case here. One is inclined to think that Paul Hillier hasn't read Daniel Melamed's text and the latter hasn't heard the performance. It is very clear right from the start that Hillier tries to deliver an expressive performance. The heading begins with a crescendo on the first word ("das" [Leiden]), and there are several pretty strong dynamic shadings in this section.

Johan Linderoth has the right voice for the part of the Evangelist. But his performance is more than an 'objective' narration of the story. He emphasizes elements in the text through dynamics, by slowing down or even by colouring his voice. That happens, for instance, in the passage of Jesus' prayers at the mount of Olives and the meeting with Judas, or the call of the people to set Barabbas free.
The part of Jesus is slow, and the performance by Jakob Bloch Jespersen is rather pathetic. It is anything but a neutral recitation.
The overall tempo of this performance is too slow, and that results in the delivery of the text being unnatural. There are some quotations - like when Peter remembers Jesus' prediction of his denial - and here the music almost comes to a standstill.

All these things suggest it was the aim of the performance to move the audience. But that was not the aim of Heinrich Schütz. Therefore this recording grossly misrepresents this masterpiece. The booklet contains the lyrics with an English translation, but there are several printing errors and omissions.

We have to wait a little longer for a really good recording of Schütz' St Luke Passion - or all of his Passions, for that matter.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

Ars Nova Copenhagen
Paul Hillier

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