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Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672)
Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi, SWV50 (The Resurrection, 1623) [46:02]
interspersed with
Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630)
Israelis Brünnlein (Fountain of Israel, 1623)
Da Jakob vollendet hatte [4:14]
Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn [3:25]
O Herr, ich bin Dein Knecht [3:23]
Herr, lass meine Klage [2:53]
Freue dich des Weibes deiner Jugend [4:15]
Lieblich und schöne sein ist nichts [2:26]
Wende Dich, Herr, und sei mir gnädig [3:25]
Die mit Tränen säen [2:55]
Zion Spricht: Der Herr hat mich verlassen [4:09]
Georges Abdallah (chant, Evangelist), Claire Lefilliâtre (soprano), Fiona McGown (mezzo), Vincent Lievre-Picard (tenor), Sebastien Obrecht (tenor), Lisandro Nesis (tenor), Victor Sicard (bass baritone)
La Tempête/Simon-Pierre Bestion
rec. September 2017, Chapelle Royale du Château de Versailles. DDD
Texts and translations included
Reviewed as mp3 press preview
ALPHA 394 [77:18]

Having completed this review in February 2018, I seem to have forgotten to submit it.  That’s all the more unfortunate in that my reaction to the recording is very markedly at odds with Richard Hanlon’s favourable review.

Schütz and Schein were near contemporaries and had much in common, not least in that they were the leading lights of North German music of the period, along with Scheidt and Demantius. In principle, therefore, the combination of Schütz’s account of the Resurrection of Jesus with excerpts from Schein’s Fountain of Israel, should work well.

There are several very big BUTs, however. Firstly, I’m sure that Schütz would be horrified to have the sections of his continuous account constantly interrupted with those excerpts from Schein. His intention would have been as much to instruct as to entertain and he would not have wanted the narrative to be broken up. Perhaps that seems not to matter in a post-religious age, but it would have mattered to the composer.

Secondly, the title of this album is an oxymoron, Larmes de Résurrection, Tears of Resurrection, and almost without exception the chosen Schein works are melancholy in nature, as if we are meant constantly to hark back from the joy of Easter to the sadness of Good Friday. In the interview which takes the place of notes in the booklet, Simon-Pierre Bestion describes these interspersions as ‘points of repose’ but they hardly seem to me to do that, with odd exceptions such as the joyful Freue dich (track 10) which receives a performance to match its theme.

Philippe Pierlot’s recording on Ricercar RIC280 prefaces the Historia der Auferstehung with a setting of the Seven Words from the Cross and concludes with excerpts from Johann Sebastiani’s Matthew Passion and other Passiontide music, but at least the main work is performed complete without interruption. That 2-CD set is also available as part of a 7-CD budget-price offering (RIC344 – review: guide price around £32).

The third reservation concerns the decision to use a cantor from the Eastern Christian tradition as the Evangelist. Schütz would surely have thought this the most bizarre decision of all, especially as the chosen singer ornaments his contribution with quarter notes from a tradition quite different from the sound world of an early seventeenth century Lutheran much influenced by Italian music1. The music has its own austere beauty – a by-product of the ravages of the 30 Years War, which reduced the number of singers available – without embellishment. He defends the decision as ‘while … not Schütz’s compositional approach, it connects in a peculiar way with our western tradition inherited from Gergorian [sic] chant: the same is true of the hypnotic character of the singer’s narration’.

I can’t deny that the singing, in a different context, would be hypnotic, but the one word which stands out to me from the quotation is ‘peculiar’, though it’s of a piece with Bestion’s Marcel Pérès-influenced treatment of the Messe de nostre Dame on an earlier Alpha recording (below).

Finally, Bestion seems proud of having tinkered with the text of the Schütz, for example in his decision ‘to represent the central role of Cleophas with a single vocal personality – as if to say, this character is more human, more of a simple man – and to accompany him with an instrument (a viola da gamba or a trombone)’. I must take serious exception to another review - not on MusicWeb - which suggests that ‘only purists’ would object to these violations of the composer’s intentions.

With very fine accounts of the Historia and Israels Brünnlein in the catalogue, including 2-CD sets of the complete Brünnlein, I cannot recommend the new Alpha, good as most of the performances are. The tinkering seems to me of a piece with those opera productions, sadly all too frequent, where an over-‘clever’ director has undermined the work of the composer and musicians.

Paul Hillier, with Ars Nova Copenhagen and Concerto Copenhagen, offers a fine account of the Schütz in tandem with his Christmas Story on DaCapo 8.226058 – review – and Hans Christoph Rademann’s distinguished team offer it in the company of other Schütz Eastertide music in German and Latin on Carus 83.256 – DL News 2014/6.

For the Schein I recommend Hermann Max with the Rheinische Kantorei (Capriccio C5069 – review) or Hans Christoph Rademann with the Dresdener Kammerchor (Carus 83.350 – review review DL Roundup September 2012/1) both 2-CD complete sets, or Philippe Herreweghe with Ensemble Vocal Européen (Harmonia Mundi D’Abord HMA1951574) a 79-minute near-complete single-CD selection, download only, budget price. The Deutsche Harmonia Mundi (DHM) selection which I mentioned in 2012 seems to have disappeared again; it's not even in their Cantus Cölln 10-CD set.

Not having heard the Herrweghe recording which includes 21 of the pieces from the Schein collection, I listened to it as streamed from Naxos Music Library and found myself enjoying it just as much as the selection on DHM, hitherto my version of choice. It’s available to download for as little as £4.49 (mp3) or £4.99 (lossless), but without booklet.

I had some minor reservations about the last release from Bestion and his team, again relating not to the quality of the singing and playing but to the decision to scatter the sections of Machaut’s Messe de Nostre Dame and Stravinsky’s Mass around a programme (Alpha261, Azahar Spring 2017/1). It's fair to add that others were more impressed, but this time my reservations go much deeper and I must strongly recommend looking elsewhere for both works.

1 At least one of the works attributed to Schütz, Cantate Domino, is probably by one of the Gabrielis.

Brian Wilson

Previous review: Richard Hanlon

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