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Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672)
Musicalisches Exequien (German Requiem), SWV 279-281
Die sieben Worte Jesu Christi am Kreuz
(The Seven Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross), SWV 478
Die mit Tranen saen (They that sow in tears), SWV 378
So fahr ich hin zu Jesu Christ (So onward I go to Jesus Christ), SWV 379
Veronika Wihter (soprano) Bettian Pahn (soprano) Henning Voss (counter-tenor)
Jan Kobow (tenor) Henning Kaiser (tenor)
Ralf Grobe (bass) Ulrich Maier (bass)
Beate Rollecke (organ) Die Himlische Cantorey Alsfelder Vokalensemble Bremen
Barockorchester I Febiarmonici/Wolfgang Helbich (conductor). Recorded at the St. Petri Dom, Bremen from 10-12 October, 2001. DDD NAXOS 8.555705 [52:51


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Heinrich Schütz often known as "The Father of German Music" was the leading German choral composer of the early to middle baroque. Schütz travelled to Italy more than once during his lifetime, studying in Venice with the master composers: Giovanni Gabrieli and possibly with Monteverdi. Schütz thoroughly internalised the Venetian polychoral concertato style, giving equal weight to both voices and instruments, which is the predominant style of his works, particularly in the three books in nine volumes of the Symphoniae sacrae which were composed 1629-50. This unlikely fusion of Gabrieli’s Italian school and Protestant Germany was cutting-edge music and we are told that the German performers of Schütz’s day found the requirements of the Italian style technically extremely difficult to perform.

Schütz managed to achieve a remarkable tenure of fifty-seven out of his eighty-seven year life as Kapellmeister at the Electorial Court in Dresden. Much of his choral music that survives was composed for liturgical purposes and in addition to the Symphoniae sacrae and the two major works contained on this release, the Cantiones sacrae (1625) and the Symphoniarum sacarum secunda pars (1647) are significant examples together with numerous oratorios, passions, madrigals and motets.

The Prince Heinrich Posthumus of Reuss requested Schütz to compose a work for his funeral; which was following the custom of arranging his funeral arrangements in advance of his death. The result was the magnificent three movement Musicalisches Exequien (German Requiem) composed in 1636 which contained a tribute in verse to the Prince. The first movement is entitled Concerto in the form of a German funeral mass which is intended for six singers and organ. The middle movement is a motet: Lord, if I have only thee for eight unaccompanied singers and two choirs. The work concludes with a setting of the Nunc dimittis for two choirs. Characteristically the work is extremely strong and concentrated and the performers offer an interpretation of admirable conviction and precision with the significant demands of this rich and varied score.

The Seven Words of Jesus Christ on the Cross dates from 1645-46 and uses traditional texts drawn from the four evangelists, utilising various vocal combinations and instrumentation. The soloists, choir and orchestra are in outstanding form throughout the distinctive and expansive score. The depth of feeling offered by the principals is exceptional, with significant dramatic expression combined with conviction and appropriate reverence.

The short five voice setting with basso continuo Die mit Tranen saen (They that sow in tears) is taken from Psalm XXVI and is the tenth in a set of motets included in Schütz’s collection Musicalia ad Chorum Sacrum or Geistliche Chor-Musik which was published in 1648. The release concludes with the even briefer eleventh motet in the collection So fahr ich hin zu Jesu Christ (So onward I go to Jesus Christ) which is also for five voices and basso continuo and is a setting taken from a well-known funeral chorale. In these pieces one cannot fail to be impressed with the finely blended performances of the soloists which provide significant satisfaction.

The talented soloists are entirely convincing throughout and superbly recorded too. Although it seems unfair to single out individuals in this superb team achievement I particularly enjoyed hearing the dazzling voices of principal soprano Veronika Winter and tenor Jan Kobow. It is hard to fault this release and special praise must go to Berlin born conductor Wolfgang Helbich for his sterling direction of the two specialist early-music vocal ensembles the Alsfelder Vokalensemble (which he founded), Himlische Cantorey and the period-instrument orchestra I Febiarmonici. Although a relatively young baroque orchestra I Febiarmonici using historic performance practice have attracted critical acclaim since their inception in 1998 and provide exquisite and refined playing.

As we have come to expect from Naxos the booklet notes by Keith Anderson are interesting, informative and detailed. It may be my rapidly ageing eyes but is the size of the Naxos print getting smaller? The sound quality approaches demonstration standard.

This is an exceptional recording of the highest possible quality from Naxos. Heinrich Schütz is a major figure and will gain many new supporters to his rich and colourful music. It provides major rewards. Wonderful!

Michael Cookson


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