Schein: Cymbalum Sionium

La Capella Ducale, Musica Fiata, Roland Wilson
76:07
deutsche harmonia mundi 88875051442

J. H. Schein has often been relegated to the role of ‘filler’ composer, providing a pretty but musically inconsequential piece to fill up an early Baroque programme. Not so long ago this was the fate of Michael Praetorius, a composer now recognized for his major contribution to large-scale choral music, and it should probably come as no surprise Schein promises to be a similar discovery. This collection of music from his Cymbalum Sionium  of 1615 is the work of a highly accomplished, inventive and imaginative musical mind, building on the world of Lassus, Hassler, and the Gabrielis, clearly being influenced by Praetorius and in turn influencing Heinrich Schütz. It seems extraordinary even in a country like Germany which boasts such an embarrassing wealth of superlative early Baroque music that Schein’s choral music should largely have escaped attention until now, but the present CD does much to rectify this problem. The performances are energetic, beautifully sung and presenting a full range of instrumental colours including scampering cornets, recorders and splendid regal, dulcian and a great bass shawm tones which add a terrific earthy note to proceedings. The striking contemporary portrait of Schein, complete with funky coiffure and facial hair, suggests a composer as flamboyant as the vividly wonderful music recorded here. One of the chief delights of reviewing is coming across completely unanticipated treasures, and this CD certainly comes into that category.

D. James Ross