Not for nothing is Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672)
often called the greatest German (speaking) composer before Bach.
His music has variety, depth, technical acuity and originality,
joy, pain, regret, grief, hope - amongst a wide range of emotions,
clarity and a felicitous shade of the grave effortlessly balanced
between sternness and wisdom. Such equilibrium, when the composer
was aware of dread, death and depression of the Thirty Years War,
is particularly striking and confers upon his mostly devotional
musical output something special and appealing.
all that, Schütz is under-performed and under-appreciated.
His œuvre all too often gets shunted into a Christmas compilation
disc or is talked about without being actually listened to
properly. Lovers of Baroque music will all benefit as Schütz
gathers many and competent advocates.
The National Youth Choir of Great Britain he’s certainly
found yet another champion. ‘Die
Vögel unter dem Himmel’ is an almost hour long anthology of
sacred choral music by Schütz
with half a dozen pieces lasting just under a further 20 minutes
by contemporaries, Scheidt, Scheidemann and Sweelinck.
must be said that the quality of singing by the Choir under
Michael Brewer is very high indeed. The recorded repertoire
of the ‘NYC’ (founded in 1983) has tended to emphasise living
composers … Giles Swayne, Karl Jenkins, Alan Rawsthorne. Maybe
it’s comfort in this milieu that gives their approach to Schütz
such freshness and clarity. The Choir’s attention to the all-important
marriage of words and melody that came as much from Schütz’s
Italian experiences as anywhere is exemplary: never forced
or self-conscious but deliberate yet benevolent. As if the
Choir is singing just for you but without any sense of servility
or reticence: the music is exposed in all its fervent polish
and delicacy – just as is. The Choir and Brewer see
no need to embellish in order to persuade.
the Choir’s trenchant, engaged and vigorous singing draws
the listener into the music without fuss or frills. The pacing
is right, the balance both between the way one Schütz item
follows another and the way in which the Schütz pieces are
set amongst those of Scheidt, Scheidemann and Sweelinck is
right; and so is the emphasis which the singers are keen to
place on the relationship of text to melody.
relationship is important because real sensitivity to Schütz’s
Italianate idiom is required. It’s important not to slip into
a style more redolent of Monteverdi and St Mark’s than one
embedded in Protestant Saxony. It’s also important because
the numbers in the Choir (well over a hundred) are much greater
than Schütz would ever have expected to use. They preserve
this is a satisfying and stimulating collection of Baroque
choral pieces. The organ plays a minor but important rôle
and adds a welcome spatial depth. The recording – in two locales
- is a good one. The informative booklet contains the texts
in German/Latin and English with a useful background essay
– and photographs which (with Brewer conducting in shorts)
convey the down-to-earth and relaxed accomplishments of this
ensemble of young musicians. Because these forces have understood
so well that the appeal of Schütz’s sincerity lies more in
energy than in maudlin, it is hard to see how this recording
can fail to delight.