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Schutz: St. Luke Passion, Seven Last Words / Rademann, Dresden Chamber Choir

Schutz / Sirius Viols / Perl
Release Date: 02/26/2013 
Label:  Carus   Catalog #: 83253   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Heinrich Schütz
Performer:  Hille Perl
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dresden Chamber ChoirSirius Viols
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

SCHÜTZ Cantiones Sacrae Hans-Christoph Rademann, cond; Dresden Ch C CARUS 83.252 (2 CDs: 108:31 Text and Translation)

SCHÜTZ Die sieben Worte Jesu am Kreuz. Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott. Lukaspassion Hans-Christoph Rademann, cond; Ulrike Hofbauer (sop); Stefan Kunath (alt); Jan Kobow (ten); Tobias Read more Mäthger (ten); Felix Rumpf (bs); Felix Schwandtke (bs); Dresden Ch C CARUS 83.253 (71:06 Text and Translation)

With these two releases, numbered respectively as Vols. 5 and 6, Hans-Christoph Rademann continues his project to record the entire compositional output of Heinrich Schütz over the coming decade. The previous four issues have received enthusiastic plaudits in these pages from both myself and J. F. Weber (see our reviews in 31:5, 35:1, 35:5, 35: 6, and 36:4). With one slight caveat, this review will offer another enthusiastic recommendation.

The Cantiones Sacrae was published in 1625 as the composer’s op. 4. Consisting of 40 parts (a number of both theological signification and also of personal significance, as the composer marked his 40th birthday that year), it stands out in Schütz’s oeuvre in several ways. First, along with Book I of the Symphonie Sacrae that would follow in 1629, it is the only set of the composer’s sacred works to employ Latin rather than German texts (his only surviving collection of secular works, the op. 1 madrigals, sets Italian texts). Second, apart with the Zwölf geistliche Gesänge of 1657, it is his only collection of sacred works that makes significant use of texts drawn from devotional meditations rather than the Scriptures. In the case of the Cantiones Sacrae , Schütz drew heavily upon a 1573 edition of a compilation of meditations made by the Frankfurt theologian Andreas Musculus (1514–81), the Precationes ex veteribus orthodoxis doctoribus (Prayers of Venerable Orthodox Doctors). First published in 1553 under the title Precandi formulae piae et selectae (Select and Devout Printed Formularies), the contents were originally attributed primarily to Augustine of Hippo, but in fact derived mostly from medieval figures such as Anselm of Canterbury and Bernard of Clairvaux.

Although a devout Lutheran himself, Schütz had an ecumenical temperament quite rare for an era plagued by religious warfare; he proved himself able to work well in both Calvinist and Roman Catholic ecclesiastical establishments, and to forge strong friendships with colleagues who adhered to those confessions instead. While Lutherans did continue to utilize Latin liturgical texts upon occasion, the composer’s use of them in this instance was doubtless influenced by the unusual choice of dedicatee, Prince Johann Ulrich von Eggenberg (1568-1634). An imperial counselor to Habsburg Emperor Ferdinand II, Eggenberg was a convert to Roman Catholicism who advocated a hard-line approach against Protestants in the Thirty Years’ War and was a supporter of the brilliant but controversial imperial military commander Albrecht von Wallenstein, dying shortly after the latter’s assassination (an act carried out with imperial connivance). Back in 1617, the year before the outbreak of that war, Eggenberg had visited the Saxon court in Dresden with his imperial master and expressed his admiration for the composer’s art. In light of the destruction that imperial armies would subsequently visit upon Dresden during the 1630s—which among other consequences occasioned the loss of several years’ salary to the court’s musicians, and even the temporary dissolution of the court’s musical establishment and a resulting two-year sojourn by the composer in Copenhagen—one suspects that Schütz later had ample cause to rue his dedication.

The Cantiones Sacrae pieces are arguably the pinnacle of compositional development of the four-part Latin motet. Long recognized as being among the most stylistically adventurous and technically difficult of the composer’s works, they have had correspondingly few recordings. Previous versions include the pioneering 1963 set by Rudolf Mauersberger and the Dresden Kreuzchor, still in print in a 10-CD Berlin Classics set; the 1995 CPO issue with a vocal sextet (though only four persons sing in any one selection) directed by Manfred Cordes; a 1996 Meridian issue with Paul Steinitz and the London Bach Society, long out of print; and the 2004 Brilliant Classics release with a vocal quartet led by Matteo Messori, now available only as part of a 19-CD compilation of the label’s apparently aborted complete Schütz project. (Positively crying out for release on CD are the two LPs, released in the U.S. by the Musical Heritage Society, of 25 excerpts recorded by Helmuth Rilling and his Gächinger Kantorei.) Among the five complete sets, there are three distinct approaches. Mauersberger and Steinitz use full-scale choirs with organ accompaniment; at the polar extreme, Cordes and Massori utilize quartets of vocal soloists, with Cordes employing a very discreet organ accompaniment and Messori using a more prominent harpsichord in the first half and organ in the second half. Rademann splits the difference with an 18-member vocal ensemble (six sopranos and four each of altos, tenors, and basses) and organ accompaniment. While I still derive considerable pleasure from the Steinitz set, both that and the turgid Mauersberger collection are completely eclipsed by the other three entries.

J. F. Weber reviewed this set in 36:4, the Cordes set in 20:5, and the Messori set in 30:5. Referring to the first two as his preferred choices, he wrote: “I find the two versions equally appealing, appreciating the one I am hearing before switching to the other equally impressive performance. My head tells me that Cordes argues persuasively, but my heart tells me that the warmth of Rademann’s multiple voices is unarguable. These Scriptural texts in Latin are not madrigals, after all.” In his review of the Cordes set he also previously observed: “However convinced Cordes may be about the rightness of his approach, I believe it has more to do with contemporary aesthetics—a widespread understanding of how this music should go—than with anything the composer would recognize.” Normally I am in complete accord with Weber’s judgment, but here we for once diverge. While I respect the scrupulous execution and devotional reverence of Rademann and his forces in what are fine performances, compared to Cordes and Messori I find their renditions, comparatively speaking, opaque and lacking in vibrancy and color. In particular, the mercurial Messori renditions make the implicitly revolutionary character of these pieces (recognized over a century ago by Philipp Spitta) come immediately to the fore with a liveliness that manifests their genuine kinship to the Italian madrigal. Still, anyone interested in Schütz’s music will necessarily want recordings of both approaches, and Rademann’s is far and away the best rendition with choral rather than solo forces.

Back in 35:4 I had occasion to rave about the four-CD set by Paul Hillier and the Ars Nova Copenhagen of recordings (also available as separate issues) of the passion settings of Schütz, in which I gave “unqualified endorsements of these performances as the recordings of choice for these works.” While I would still stand by that judgment in the face of Rademann’s very fine alternative account of the Lukaspassion (in which the leading roles of the Evangelist and Jesus are taken respectively by tenor Jan Kobow and bass Felix Rumpf), the latter’s rendition of Die Sieben Worte Jesu am Kreuz is an exceptionally moving account that arguably trumps Hiller, in no small part due to the exceptional work of Kobow as Jesus and tenor Tobias Mäthger as the Evangelist. Add to that the world premiere recording of the motet Erbarm dich mein, o Herre Gott , and this disc becomes a must-have acquisition for all lovers of the music of the man whose gravestone rightly memorialized him as “musicus excellentissimus.” Both releases have clear, clean recorded sound with minimal resonance. The Cantiones Sacrae set has texts in Latin with only a German translation; the other discs have the German texts with an English translation. Despite my preferences for other recordings, both are nonetheless recommended, and will necessarily be acquired by Schütz devotees such as myself intent on collecting his complete works.

FANFARE: James A. Altena
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Works on This Recording

Saint Luke Passion, SWV 480 by Heinrich Schütz
Performer:  Hille Perl (Bass Viola Da Gamba)
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dresden Chamber Choir,  Sirius Viols
Period: Baroque 
Written: by 1665; Dresden, Germany 
Die sieben Worte unsers lieben Erlösers, SWV 478 by Heinrich Schütz
Performer:  Hille Perl (Bass Viola Da Gamba)
Conductor:  Hans-Christoph Rademann
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dresden Chamber Choir,  Sirius Viols
Period: Baroque 
Written: Germany 

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