Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672)
Geistliche Chor-Music 1648
CD 1
Es wird das Zepter von Juda nicht entwendet werden (SWV 369) [2:50]
Er wird sein Kleid in Wein waschen (SWV 370) [2:18]
Es ist erschienen die heilsame Gnade Gottes (SWV 371) [3:43]
Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich (SWV 372) [2:13]
Gib unsern Fürsten (SWV 373) [1:54]
Unser keiner lebet ihm selber (SWV 374) [2:57]
Viel werden kommen von Morgen und von Abend (SWV 375) [2:36]
Sammlet zuvor das Unkraut (SWV 376) [1:40]
Herr, auf dich traue ich (SWV 377) [2:54]
Die mit Tränen säen (SWV 378) [3:32]
So fahr ich hin zu Jesu Christ (SWV 379) [2:53]
Also hat Gott die Welt geliebt (SWV 380) [2:32]
O lieber Herre Gott, wecke uns auf (SWV 381) [3:05]
Tröstet, tröstet mein Volk (SWV 382) [3:24]
Ich bin eine rufende Stimme (SWV 383) [3:55]
Ein Kind ist uns geboren (SWV 384) [3:16]
Das Wort ward Fleisch (SWV 385) [3:43]
Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes (SWV 386) [4:22]
CD 2
Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr (SWV 387) [9:04]
Das ist je gewisslich wahr (SWV 388) [4:13]
Ich bin ein rechter Weinstock (SWV 389) [3:44]
Unser Wandel ist im Himmel (SWV 390) [4:01]
Selig sind die Toten (SWV 391) [4:14]
Was mein Gott will, das g'scheh allzeit (SWV 392) [4:52]
Ich weiß, dass mein Erlöser lebt (SWV 393) [2:35]
Sehet an den Feigenbaum (SWV 394) [4:31]
Der Engel sprach zu den Hirten (SWV 395) [2:46]
Auf dem Gebirge hat man ein Geschrei gehöret (SWV 396) [5:02]
Du Schalksknecht (SWV 397) [3:34]
Dresdner Kammerchor
Cappella Sagittariana Dresden/Hans-Christoph Rademann
rec. 24-28 November 2006; 27-28 February 2007, Lukaskirche, Dresden, Germany. DDD
CARUS 83.232 [53:30 + 48:39]

Schütz's Geistliche Chor-Music was published in 1648. It was written in celebration of the end of the devastating Thirty Years War which had had such a profound effect on all those alive in Germany and beyond. He dedicated the collection to the choir of St Thomas in Leipzig; Schütz worked in nearby Dresden for over half a century. The dedication was perhaps in recognition of the superiority of that choir over his own and of the greater musical possibilities which Leipzig certainly offered.

We are tempted to look for external motives for a collection of motets with no basso continuo. This was after all a style then falling from fashion and was probably seen as representing something of a step backwards. Or perhaps - as Schütz said in his preface to the collection - he felt it necessary to advocate the motet so as to command true counterpoint in ways that the newer concertante style effectively disallowed.

Here is a new and delightfully satisfying recording of the complete series of 29 motets. The featured choir and small band of instrumentalists are utterly committed to conveying not only the music's considerable beauty and profundity, but also its place in such stylistic developments. They are aware of the exact relationship between text and melody/texture. Their enunciation of the German is clarity itself. These texts are predominantly Biblical, though there is also poetry by German-speaking near-contemporaries. They are all sacred, of course. Like Bach, Schütz saw the music as supporting the religious intention of the texts. This requires a careful balance; and that's a balance and sets of nuances of which director, Hans-Christoph Rademann, is very much in control.

He and his forces are also sufficiently aware and on top of the need to sing and play very much without undue declamation or overplaying the more demonstrative passages in the music. Even such motets as Herzlich lieb hab ich dich, o Herr (SWV 387) [CD.2 tr.1], which is the most substantial item in the collection, benefits from a delivery that leaves the words of dedication and almost ecstatic devotion to speak for themselves. Using melodies that verge almost on understatement in their gentle rise and fall Schütz has the whole make much more of an impact than if he had reinforced sentiments like:

Herr Jesu Christ, mein Herr und Gott, tröst mich in meiner Todesnot

with over-rhetorical harmonic layers or self-conscious rhythms. Rademann makes no attempt to do other than express what's in the music. Admirable: the composer's conviction shines through.

The Cappella Sagittariana Dresden makes two forms of instrumental contribution: to accompany groups of singers playing colla parte; and in place of certain vocal lines. As we must in the case of the size of the vocal forces used, we can only trust that the disposition of instruments with voices is one of which Schütz would have approved. By and large so it seems: the music is intense and pointed without ever losing colour or variety.

Indeed, it's a feat to have the listener's interest maintained over the hour and a half of these two CDs unless s/he concentrates on the words and their relationship with the music. Expecting a 'wash' will lead to disappointment. For example, Schütz tended to use short note-values so as to expose the semantic force of the texts. At the same time, the order of works as presented across the two CDs facilitates appreciation of the many aspects of the 'holiness' which the composer was reflecting. Then, since one suggested order follows the rising number of parts for which the motets were intended, it is necessary to consider and respond to the collection as a whole. By the end of the second CD, so gentle yet clear and considered has been the authoritative and almost understated delivery of the music that one feels a sense of deep satisfaction at the experience. There is no overly liturgical emphasis on the sombre or the weighty; just a respectful and highly accomplished conveying of every nuance and emotion in each of these wonderful motets.

The booklet contains all the German, and English translations. The acoustic and recording are sympathetic to Schütz's idiom; and are first rate … effective, supporting and enhancing with just the right touch of resonance.

The only viable rival recording is by the Bach Collegium Japan under Suzuki on Bis 831/2. Their approach is different and concentrates more on the richness of the sound than does the present, more sparingly conceived, recording. There's a place for both. The Carus discs will not disappoint.

Mark Sealey

A splendid recording … blends care and precision with a broad musicality.