La Petite Bande, Sigiswald Kuijken
Accent ACC 24355
Nine singers, three viol players, an organ and Kuijken, playing both violin and violone, combine to produce a splendid CD of Schütz’s Easter music. As well as the substantial Easter story (SWV 50) there is the early dialogue (SWV 443) and three other pieces that provide more motet-like settings.
By contrast with later conventions, the narrative in SWV 50 is sung against a web of viols which sustain – and occasionally improvise – chords; the effect in Kuijken’s austere but beautiful performance is not unlike a lirone. The hieratic nature of this modal declamation with its repeated and formulaic cadences contrasts with the character parts in the drama, which are almost always sung by duets or sometime trios. Cleopas alone sings with a single line, and one duet is scored with a single voice and a violin. This use of pairs of voices, with their dramatic imitative writing, chromatic harmonies and colourful characterisation bridges the distance between the Italianate world of Monteverdi’s and Grandi’s duet writing and the chamber music of the court at Dresden and Schütz’s own Kleine geistliche Konzerte.
In chamber music of this style, all depends on the quality of the voices and the intensity of the musicians’ commitment. Both are of the highest quality here. There are no overblown gestures vocally, and no attempts to make the music sound grander with unnecessary doubling or additional instrumental parts. The voices are beautifully balanced and the tenors range from the low to the very haute-contre, blending perfectly. And the convention of using a pair of equal voices to represent the Vox Christi as well as other characters has that magical surprise-factor that two singers give when they join to represent the voice of God in Benjamin Britten’s Abraham and Isaac. The two singers in SWV 443 singing ‘Maria’ or ‘Rabbuni’ produce the same effect. Per contra, the singers in Ich bin die Auferstehung (SWV 464) and Ich weiss dass mein Erlöser lebt (SWV 393) look forward to Johann Michael Bach and the German tradition in the last quarter of the 17th century. What a great deal, geographically as well as temporally, Schütz spanned.
The texts are in German, English and French, and so is the characteristic note by Kuijken. There are no details of the instruments, pitch or temperament, but otherwise this CD is a model of clarity, quality and collaborative musicianship.