Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672)
The Complete Schütz - Volume 12
Symphonia Sacrae III (SWV398-418) (c.1650)

Dorothee Mields (soprano); Ulrike Hofbauer (soprano); Isabel Jantschek (soprano); Maria Stosiek (mezzo); David Erler (alto); Stefan Kunath (alto); Georg Poplutz (tenor); Tobias Mäthger (tenor); Martin Schicketanz (baritone); Felix Schwandtke (bass).
Dresden Chamber Choir and Baroque Orchestra/Hans-Christophe Rademan
rec. no details supplied
CARUS 83.258 [52:39 + 66:51]

Well, how are you getting on with collecting this complete Schütz edition from Carus? This is volume 12, eight volumes having already emerged; three being double albums like this but only two being SACDs. Sadly, although my CD shelves might not agree, they have all so far passed me by but I am much taken with this recording.

This work is dedicated to Johann Georg I in recognition of his assistance towards the costs of publication. The Symphonia Sacrae III consists of twenty-one large concertos (or anthems) in German, for three to six voices. In thirteen of them these solo voices, often treated in a virtuoso way, are joined by either a four-part ‘complement’ (an orchestra and a full ripieno with choir who mostly sing homophonically) or, in a few cases, by a double choir. They are large and lavish 'concerti sacrae', which are often quite dramatic. Some of them may date back to Schütz's time in Copenhagen, which he left in 1635 having worked for King Christian IV. Others were composed over a decade later.

The damaging Thirty Years War, having ended in 1648, seems to have raised the composer’s spirits leading him to compose so many joyous and positive works as the fascinating booklet notes by Oliver Geisler tell us. As proof you might cite the large anthem, which comes at the end with the famous text Nun danket alle Gott, which was, composed for the peace celebrations of 1648.

Possibly the most famous anthem in the collection, and the only one I had personally sung, is actually the shortest, Saul, Saul was verfolgst du mich written for the Feast of the Conversion of St. Paul (25 January). It seems to me that its opening especially is one of the most shattering of musical nightmares in all the pre-classical era. Madrigalian-type word-painting can be found throughout the collection. There are also moving and seductive pieces such as Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel, a setting of the Lord’s prayer in which the word ‘Vater’ is touchingly re-iterated. There’s Seid barmherzig (Be ye therefore merciful) and also Es ging ein Sämann aus zu säen, a conversation concerto setting the parable of the sower. Also Siehe, dieser wird gesetzt zu einem Fall (Behold, this child is set for the fall) all of which demonstrate Schütz as the greatest descriptive composer in Germany of his generation. Just listen to the vivid characterisation of Mein Sohn warum hast du uns das getan. The publication therefore represents the high point of the Italianate influence said to be the major stimulus on 17th century German music. Schütz, as is well known, studied with Gabrieli in his youth. For his second trip to Venice in 1628-9 he seems to have met Monteverdi and to have taken an interest in the new stile concertato and in monody.

In addition Schütz can rightly claim that in the three volumes of Sacred Symphonies he endowed the development of instrumental music. Most of the pieces begin with an instrumental Sinfonia and throughout their use is sonorous and colourful. There is a new sense of expression and the developing technical requirements ultimately resulted in the great oratorios of the next generation or so. Their “wealth of musical ideas, complexity of textural interpretation and sensuousness have a power to overwhelm and create much admiration” (booklet notes). What of the performances? Do they aid or hinder?

The recordings by Cantus Cölln of the ‘Psalmen Davids’ have the settings performed by two groups of soloists only and many may think this appropriate. For myself I prefer the Dresden approach as they pit a soloistic group against the choral ensemble - effectively, when required. You can obviously then distinguish more easily between one choir and another. The sound is also fuller, probably as a result of a closer recording. Perhaps it’s appropriate that I prefer the Dresden performances as Schütz worked in Dresden from 1613 for a number of years.

The soloists are consistently excellent. It's not often can one say that, as there might be just one person who could be felt to be ‘off form’. Not so here with this extensive group many of whom are little known outside Germany although their ‘biogs’ are impressive. They sing with a clear, pure tone and with controlled vibrato all beautifully balanced and with immaculate diction.

As mentioned, the essay is interesting and useful. The texts are well translated; ones appreciation of Schütz’s achievement is enhanced by carefully following these whilst listening. So this CD comes out as highly rated even if you have none of the other volumes in this Carus series.

Gary Higginson

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