Notes and Editorial Reviews
Johann Hermann Schein’s set of Old Testament vignettes, Israelis Brunnlein (“The Fountains of Israel”), comprises 26 sacred madrigals in five and six parts with a basso seguente (a pragmatic continuo rather than a ‘governor’ in the proceedings) in the most contemporary early baroque idiom. In 1623 that meant an unashamed recognition of Italian modernism and a fearless mission to represent textual imagery in the most descriptive, acute and detailed fashion. Whilst we are familiar with Italian experimentation in madrigalian practices of the early seventeenth century – ‘concerted’ vocal writing and the like – the quicksilver German response to Italian innovation is less widely celebrated. Schein’s close colleague Heinrich Schutz is widely
accredited with, almost single-handedly, infusing seconda prattica principles into the veins of the German Protestant aesthetic; this no doubt stems from a highly publicized visit Schutz made to Italy but also because his work spans the generations that lead directly to Bach. In many respects, Schein has an equal claim to the remarkable quality and success of the German early baroque, though he died in 1630, 42 years before Schutz. As far as Bach is concerned, Schein was one of his most distinguished predecessors at St Thomas’s Leipzig.
Anyone who hears this sympathetic account of Israelis Brunnlein from Ensemble Vocal Europeen will undoubtedly be convinced that this is one of the great pillars of German baroque music. It is fascinating not only as a demonstration of how the best German music incorporates foreign styles within indigenous techniques but also for Schein’s discovery of his own unique expressive horizons, in ways which cannot directly be attributed to either Mantua or Leipzig. As in the Lagrime di St Pietro of Lassus (a composer whose poised contrapuntal craft is transmuted with profound respect by Schein), secular idioms successfully serve the sacred vision. Herreweghe, whose cool and collected reading of the Lassus masterpiece (Harmonia Mundi, 8/94) is vocally peerless, finds new priorities here. The exposed solo context draws out a greater sense of quasi-spontaneous attention, particularly in upbeat examples like “Freue dich des Weibes” and the concentrated brilliance of “Ist nicht Ephraim?”. Emotional intensity is, however, inclined to sound over-measured in works like “Die mit Tranen saen” and “Was betrubst”, where dramatic urgency is required above the restrained shapeliness and refinement that is Herreweghe’s hallmark. This is where Cantus Colln steal the odd march in their choice of 11 madrigals from this collection (recorded alongside examples from Opella Nova II). I am, however, pushed to know which version of the extraordinary “Da Jakob vollendt hatte” I prefer.
There are some fine singers here (underpinned by the splendid Peter Kooy), even if the tenor tuning is not always beyond reproach; as an almost comprehensive – five pieces are left out – volume of 80-odd minutes, this is a commendable achievement and further assures Schein’s reputation as a master of exquisite characterization.'
Jonathan Freeman-Attwood, The GRAMOPHONE (3/1997)
Works on This Recording
Fontana d'Israel by Johann Hermann Schein
Vasiljka Jezovsek (Soprano),
Elisabeth Scholl (Soprano),
Simon Berridge (Countertenor),
Hervé Lamy (Tenor),
Mark Padmore (Tenor),
Peter Kooy (Bass),
Ageet Zweistra (Cello),
Herman Stinders (Positive),
Brian Feehan (Lute),
Jonathan Cable (Double Bass)
Royal Chapel European Vocal Ensemble
Written: by 1623; Germany
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