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Brilliant Classics

Heinrich SCHUTZ (1585-1672)
Complete Choral works: Box 2

Cantiones Sacrae for four voices (1625) [CD1: 55:05 + CD2: 54:11]
Kleine geistiche Concerte, (1636) [CD3: 40:50 + CD4: 33:14]
Primo libro de Madrigali (1611) [CD5: 55:42]
Alma Mikolajczyk; Kira Boreczko (sop); Maciej Gocman; Luca Dellacasa (alto); Paolo Borgonov (ten); Matteo Bellotto; Garrick Comeaux; Walter Testolin (bass)
Basso Continuo: Nicola Dal Maso (violine in sol); Alessandro Orsaria (organ); Matteo Messori (spinet; organ)
Capella Augustana/Matteo Messori
Rec. Chiesa arcipretale di bedonia (Parma) March-May 2004 (CDs 1-4); Seminary of Piacenza January 2004 (CD 5)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92440 [5 CDs: 55:05 + 54:11 + 40:50 + 33:14 + 55:42]

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During the years 1609 until 1612 Schutz served his apprenticeship in various small German courts and chapels. Then he made a life-changing decision: to study in Italy at St. Mark’s, Venice with Giovanni Gabrieli. Not only did this decision totally alter his compositional style but his musical development places him in a family tree from Adrian Willaert c.1525, through to Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli. This torch was carried across to Germany with Schutz and eventually to J.S. Bach who is often described as the last great medieval composer. In Italy the line ended with Monteverdi at his death in 1643. This 17th century Italian-Germanic trend is the specialism of Capella Augustana under the learned inspiration of its young director Matteo Messori.

What all of these figures have in common is that they are basically contrapuntalists. Ironically Monteverdi and Schutz were fore-runners in the use of figured bass and later recitative. The opening chorus of the St. Matthew Passion with its mixed choir contrasted with the second choir of trebles shows its links with Schutz's double choir motets. In turn Schutz had seen, heard and studied in St. Mark’s Venice with Gabrieli demonstrating the real weight of the Italian polychoral tradition behind him.

We are told in the excellent accompanying essay by Messori that Schutz was keen on madrigals. This was for several reasons. First, it encouraged composers to think purely in lines. Second, it developed the skill of expressive word-painting. It is curious therefore that Schutz only produced one book of madrigals. Yet when one hears the sacred concertos one is quickly reminded, especially in these performances by a small group of singers, that they are in fact madrigals with sacred texts; in other words psalms or the supposed Meditations of St. Augustine.

Schutz was apparently very careful about suggesting continuo accompaniment in any of his works and added organ parts rather ruefully.

The Italian Madrigals in these performances have harpsichord accompaniment which I for one do not particularly like. If I did not possess another version of them I would be quite happy with these performances. However I have a recording with Konrad Junghanel accompanying with the lute (harmonia mundi 901686) which is for many reasons preferable. Junghanel’s delicate lute sounds colour the voices gently. Also the standard of singing by Cantus Cöln is very fine indeed. Schutz was ambiguous about accompaniment in madrigals so the subtle figurations of the lute work most effectively.

I also listened to a few of Johann Herman Schein’s greatly influential ‘Duetti Pastorali' alluded to in the accompanying essay. These were published at various times and range from the rather simple lied-style settings of 1609 to the expressive language of the late 1620s (Harmonia Mundi RD 77088 also with Cantus Cöln). Schutz must surely have known these works as indeed he must have known Monteverdi’s middle period Madrigal Books - the fourth book for instance, dated 1603. These composers took special care with the text, its careful expression and in the uses of continuo. Schutz even sets the same poets as Monteverdi. Guarini (Il pastor fido) and Marino are examples proving that the younger man had totally assimilated the Italian style.

In 1628 Schutz returned to Italy to study with Monteverdi, so with the Sacred Concertos dating from several years later, the inspiration is quite certainly the later madrigal books of Monteverdi - especially Book 7. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the very first of the Sacred Concertos ‘Eile mich, Gott’ (Make haste O God to deliver me’) a setting of psalm 70. The accompanying continuo is given here to a spinet, organ and six string violone in G on the grounds that these were available to Schutz in the musicians’ balcony of the church at the Royal Court of Copenhagen, where he worked at the time. This instrumentation really fleshes out the bass. No matter what scholarship may dictate, musically and dramatically this combination is very effective and powerful. These concertos are quite rightly referred to as ‘Sacred Madrigals’ and although short (‘Kleine’ after all) make their point effectively and without wasted notes.

The two CDs devoted to motets are utterly different. These pieces are more severe. This 1625 collection of ‘Cantiones Sacrae’ consists of twenty pieces on CD 1 and twenty one on CD 2. Each is a separate work but Schutz envisaged some motets being joined as they inhabit similar texts; say those suitable for Holy Week. The texts are normally biblical and in Latin whereas the Concerti are in German. As I said above some are taken from a set of meditations said to have been written by St. Augustine. The continuo here is a safe choice being an organ; the one illustrated in the booklet built in 1731-33 by Giacinto Pescetti for the church of St. Biagio della Guidecca. Its specification is given but, quite rightly, very little of its full capacity is audible. I agree with Messori when he writes "The sound of the early organ and its Principale (pipes) blends marvellously with the choir of four singers, who were specifically placed in the organ gallery above the entrance door, the place historically appointed for the performance of church music".

This budget CD set comes complete with texts, the excellent essay mentioned above and full discographical details. But asked by a friend with whom I shared a pleasant hour listening to some of these tracks if I would make a space for this box on my shelves, I said a reluctant ‘no’. There is nothing here which excited me, indeed the motets often sound rather routine and in the madrigals I prefer Cantus Cöln. In addition the music itself, although generally of a high standard, is not vintage Schutz.

Nevertheless for the student or the Schutz enthusiast this set is genuinely worth investing in. If you are a completist you will want it anyway.

Gary Higginson


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