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Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672) Complete Works -Volume 15
Becker-Psalter, Op. 5 (selection)
Dresdner Kammerchor/Hans-Christoph Dademann
rec. ev. Weinbergkirche “Zum Heiligen Geist”, Dresden-Pillnitz, Germany, 16 - 20 November 2016. CARUS 83.276 [73:15]
In the year that we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation it is good that we have such a fine recording to show how the development of Protestant, and more importantly, Lutheran worship and music developed and Heinrich Schütz’s place in this process. There is a direct link between his Psalmen Davids, also recorded in this series (review), and Luther’s literal German translation of the Bible; this however, produced psalms settings that were only open to professional singers to sing. It was hoped that an edition of the psalms would be produced that would lead to congregational participation. To this end Cornelius Becker produced his transliteration which rendered the psalms into rhyming couplets, therefore making them more amenable to the public and easier to sing within the service of worship.
The producers of this series have very cleverly recorded twenty of the psalms from the Becker-Psalter that also appear in the Psalmen Davids, mentioned above, so that a comparison can be made, which is easy to do. In the Psalmen Davids the harmonies, though beautiful, are complex and sound too difficult for a congregation to join in with, whilst here the melodies are more appealing and easier for the non-musician to sing. These psalms still sometimes employ a soloist, but in the form of a cantor who sings the verse whilst the congregation sings a response in reply. This is done with great beauty in Danket dem Herren, gebt ihm Her (Psalm 136) SWV 241, which at nine minutes is the longest of the psalms on this disc and my favourite. Here the choir is supported not only by the organ but also by a small ensemble comprising violin, cornet, theorbo and violone, an early form of the double bass; the effect is quite appealing and attractive. This is followed by a version of Psalm 23 which is new to me and quite different to the few versions that I know. Another highlight is the famous An Wasserflüssen Babylon or By the Waters of Babylon (Psalm 137) SWV 242, which again has an appealing melody, one which sounds easy for congregational singing, but which is also makes for pleasing listening. Throughout this recording Schütz proves just how adept he was at setting texts; these psalms are set with tenderness and with appeal to both musicians and to non-musical parishioners.
As is the case with the few other recordings I have in this series, the soloists and the choir are on excellent form. They have a beautiful tone, which makes me want to hear more recordings in this wonderful series beyond the three volumes I already possess. The booklet notes, as with all Carus recordings, are informative; they are also presented in an abridged translation, which in this case is about half as long as the German original. Sadly, whilst the texts are available in German, no translations are presented here. This is important because whilst English translations of the Lutheran Psalms are readably available, I have not yet found any translations of Becker’s transliteration.