Complete recording vol. 17
Gerlinde Sämann, Isabel Schicketanz, Maria Stosiek, David Erler, Georg Poplutz, Tobias Mäthger, Tobias Berndt, Felix Schwandtle, Stefan Maass, Matthias Müller, Ludger Rémy
116:35 (2 CDs in a box)
The two collections of Kleine geistliche Konzerte published by Schütz in 1636 and 1639 respectively are not only a product of wartime but also productions directly influenced by the exigencies of war. By the time the second set was published the Thirty Years War had already been raging for over 20 years, devastating large tracts of Europe and having a disastrous effect on cultural activity. Schütz’s Dresden suffered greatly, the Kapellmeister having witnessed a radical reduction in the musical forces at his disposal.
These ‘little sacred concertos’ therefore ostensibly represent a classic example of the old saying, ‘needs must …’. In practice, despite Schütz’s own misgivings about such small-scale works, the 31 works that constitute the second collection represent an astonishingly diverse compendium of Schütz’s style as it stood at this point in his career. Consisting of vocal concertos divided between Latin and German texts and scored for anything between one and five parts and continuo, these miniature masterpieces range between solos in the stile recitative, virtuoso writing in the Venetian style of Monteverdi, complex madrigalian pieces for 4 or 5 voices and pieces in the simpler, more homophonic Lutheran tradition, though it is important to observe that Lutheran chorales play no part. Texts also cover a diverse range that naturally includes the Bible, in particular the Psalms, in addition to hymns and other Lutheran texts, and the writings of St Augustine. The last named, which include the 5-part ‘Quemadmodum desiderat’ and ‘O misericordissime Jesu’, a tenor solo in stile rappresentativo, are among the most striking settings. But everywhere the listener is constantly aware of Schütz’s unrivalled ability to colour mimetic text with an unostentatious, yet vividly deployed palette. Take as an example the duet for soprano and bass, ‘Wann unsre Augen schlafen ein’ (E’en though our weary eye-lids fall), with its falling chromatic line illustrating the gradual descent into sleep contrasted dramatically with the diatonic exhortation of the second half, ‘Above us stretch thy sheltering hand …’ Four lines of text for a setting lasting under three minutes. Yet what a wealth of expression, of meaning is contained within that tiny framework!
The present recording does not present the contents in published order, but perhaps wisely has chosen to group them under topic, thus an opening group devoted to texts associated with Christmas and so on. This provides greater contrast of texture for continuous listening, avoiding the gradual build up of forces from one to five voices, the option chosen by the principal rival, a cpo recording by Weser-Renaissance under Manfred Cordes. Eight singers, mostly little known outside Germany, are used, along with a continuo group of theorbo, gamba and keyboard (organ or virginals). If I may be allowed to introduce a personal note, I was shocked to learn from an introductory note of the death in June 2017 of the outstanding keyboard player and director of these performances, Ludger Rémy. Some years ago I had a fair amount of contact with him and indeed interviewed him for the now-defunct Goldberg Early Music Magazine. Although I believe he suffered from ill health for some years I found Rémy, both in person and in his performances, to be a man of great integrity and modesty. Fortunately he leaves a considerable recorded legacy that testifies to his substantial qualities.
It is the total integrity of these performances that is their greatest merit. All the singers are considerably more than capable, with voices that blend well in the madrigalian concerted pieces. What I would have preferred is a greater sense of the rhetorical qualities inherent in so many of the concertos. This applies especially to the several texts laid out in question and answer format or as dialogues, of which ‘Sei gegrüsset, Maria’, a dramatisation of the Annunciation, is a particularly beautiful example. In that respect I might perhaps have a leaning to the cpo, with its more familiar and experienced singers. Nonetheless, I would certainly not wish to deter anyone from these rewardingly authentic – in the true sense of the word – performances.