The title of this disc suggests it contains a
'liturgical reconstruction'. This kind of recording can be useful
to remind a present-day audience of the context in which composers
usually wrote their works. It doesn't happen very often that we
know exactly what music was performed during a specific liturgical
event. Therefore most reconstructions can't pretend more than
to present a celebration "as it could have taken place"
at a certain time and place. But this recording can't - and apparently
doesn't - even pretend that.
In her liner notes Claudia Theis refers to this
programme as "a kind of idealized musical vespers".
In this respect she compares it with the Vespers of 1610 by Claudio
Monteverdi. But that seems incorrect to me. Monteverdi's collection
contains the fixed parts of the Vesper liturgy. The antiphons
were chosen in connection with the feast at which the Vespers
were performed. But in Protestant Germany at the time of Schütz
there was no fixed structure of the Vespers. Paul McCreesh and
his Gabrieli Consort and Players recorded Christmas Vespers, which
included the complete 'Christmas Story' by Schütz. There
was no place for such music in the traditional Vespers.
There is another difference: the pieces in Monteverdi's
Vespers were all composed at about the same time. But the compositions
chosen here come from very different periods in Schütz's
career, from 1619 (Psalmen Davids) to 1650 (Symphoniae Sacrae
III). This, and the fact that these 'Vespers' are not connected
to any specific feast make this recording lack inner coherence.
One even can't be sure the items on this programme could have
been part of a Vesper liturgy at all. The liner notes don’t
explain why these have been selected.
Therefore it is better to take this recording
as what it in fact is: a cross-section of the sacred music of
Schütz, reflecting the different styles he practised. It
brings some works in polychoral style which are influenced by
Giovanni Gabrieli, who was his teacher during his first stay in
Venice from 1609 to 1617. The smaller-scale works show the influence
of the 'seconda prattica'. Schütz himself refers to the 'stylo
recitativo' in regard to the performance of these works. In doing
so he underlines the importance of a distinct declamation of the
text. It is unclear to what extent he has been influenced by Monteverdi
here. When Schütz travelled to Venice a second time in 1628/29
he certainly will have met Monteverdi. It is very likely that
during his stay he composed the 'Symphoniae Sacrae I', which were
published in Venice in 1629, but in the preface he praises his
first teacher Giovanni Gabrieli, whereas Monteverdi isn't even
mentioned. It was only in 1647, in the preface to his 'Symphoniae
Sacrae II', that he refers to Monteverdi.
The fact that Schütz was influenced by the
'seconda prattica' didn't keep him from holding the 'prima prattica'
in high esteem. In the preface to his collection 'Geistliche Chormusik'
from 1648 he urged young composers not to neglect counterpoint:
they should learn "the true foundation of good counterpoint"
before getting involved with writing in the concertante style.
Having heard many recordings with music by Schütz
it is my experience that performing his music is anything but
easy. The main challenge is to find the right way of expressing
the words on the one hand and avoid 'extreme word-painting' on
the other. Not every collection of music has to be treated the
same way, of course. The pieces which are written in the 'stylo
recitativo' require a stronger contrast between words and more
differentiation within phrases than the polychoral works and motets.
In this recording there is a lot to enjoy. On
the whole the singing and playing is pretty good. A positive aspect
is the congeniality between the solo voices and the choir. The
texts are always understandable, which is one of the most important
parts of any performance of Schütz's music.
At the same time the expression in the concertante
works could be stronger. The opening item is sung well by Markus
Brutscher, but he should have used more ornamentation and stronger
declamation. That is even more the case in 'O Jesu, nomen dulce':
a text which so strongly reflects a deep personal piety should
be sung with more commitment and feeling than Nele Gramß
does. Another example is 'Anima mea liquefacta est' (My soul is
melting) on texts from the Song of Songs. The closing phrase:
"quia amore langueo" (that I languish in my love) reflects
a kind of exaltation which contrasts with the too down-to-earth
performance. Other pieces are done a lot better, like ‘Freuet
euch des Herren, ihr Gerechten'.
The larger-scale works are done rather well most
of the time. Very impressive is one of Schütz's most dramatic
pieces in the programme, 'Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich',
a setting of the words of Christ who appears to Saul on his way
to Damascus which led to his conversion to the Christian faith.
The explosive dynamic contrasts Schütz asks for are realised
very well here by soloists and choir. In the psalms from the 'Psalmen
Davids' I could imagine some stronger differentation in dynamics
and articulation, though.
Of all the items on the programme the only really
unknown item is the four-part Psalm setting 'Nun will ich scheiden
Tag und Nacht'. It comes from the collection of Psalm settings
based on the rhymed version of the Psalms by Cornelius Becker.
Hardly any piece of this collection has ever been recorded. The
fact that one of them is included here is perhaps meant as compensation
for the lack of congregational singing which is an essential part
of any service in Protestant Germany.
The programme ends with a setting of the Magnificat
for solo voices, double choir and instruments. It is a most impressive
piece which contains a great variety of compositional techniques.
If we forget the liturgical aspirations of this
release and take it as a cross-section of the musical heritage
of Schütz this release is recommendable, even though it doesn't
come up to all expectations. One aspect I haven't mentioned yet
is the use of the Italian pronunciation of Latin, for which I
can't find any excuse.
The review copy which was sent to me was a DVD-Audio/Video.
I couldn't play it, so I borrowed a copy from the public library
to listen to. That is what this review is based upon. There is
one thing that should be noted: the booklet of the CD contains
the lyrics, although without an English translation. But the booklet
of the DVD-Audio/Video version has no lyrics at all. Instead the
buyer gets a detailed explanation of the technique of a DVD-Audio/Video.
A matter of wrong priorities, I'm afraid.
Johan van Veen