Classical CD Reviews

New classical music releases reviewed in detail by Gavin Dixon

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Heinrich Schütz: Musikalische Exequien, Bußpsalmen, Weser-Renaissance, Manfred Cordes

Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585-1672)
Musikalische Exequien SWV 279-281 [29:34]
Psalm 51 SWV148 “Erbarm dich mein” [6:32]
Psalm 6 SWV 24 “Ach Herr, straf mich nicht” [4:24]
Psalm 143 SWV 248 “Herr mein Gebet” [7:01]
Psalm 130 SWV 25 “Aus der Tiefe” [3:52]
Psalm 102 SWV 200 “Hör mein Gebet” [12:21]
Weser-Renaissance Bremen
Manfred Cordes – conductor
Recorded: Kirche St. Marien Osterholz, April 4-7 2008 Stereo DDD
CPO 777 410-2 [63:64]
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Funeral arrangements are likely to weigh heavily on your mind if you’re gone through your life with the name ‘Posthumus’. Heinrich Posthumus von Reuß came by his name on account of being born after the death of his father, and his arrangements for his own funeral were precise to the letter, with every text and reading prescribed.

We are not certain that Reuß selected Schütz to be the composer for his funerary observances, but the texts that are set are very much of his own choosing. They are also inscribed into his copper coffin, which according to the liner notes for this disc has recently been restored and put on public display in the Thüringen city of Gura.

The posthumous challenges set by von Reuß for Schütz were formidable. The texts are a selection of scriptural readings and hymns with little obvious sense of musical or semantic coherence. Schütz’ solution is essentially episodic, with homophonic chorales interspersing recitative-like solo and small ensemble passages. We are in early baroque territory here, so polyphony is at a premium and double choir textures predominate.
Weser-Renaissance, a professional choir specialising in 16th and 17th century music, do a fine job of expressing the plaintive simplicity of this music. Clarity and precise balance are everywhere in evidence, and solo voices have character and warmth. The choir is supported by discreet accompaniment from chitarrone, organ and harp, all of which lend elegant and subtle period colour.

The second movement of the ‘Exequien’ is a simple yet poignant double choir motet. The style and clarity of the antiphony here owe much to Schütz’ formative experiences in Venice and his study there with Giovanni Gabrieli.
The closing canticum of the funeral service uses an extraordinary choral effect, in which the spirit of the deceased is represented by bass voices, while angels accompanying it heaven are represented by the sopranos. Again, the clarity of the choral singing contributes to the success of this effect, as does the intimacy of the recorded sound.

The remainder of the disc is given over to a selection of Schütz’ penitential psalm settings. These again are plaintive and straightforward works. The strophic settings can feel a little repetitive, especially in the final ‘Hör mein Gebet’, which in purely musical terms struggles to justify its 12 minute span. 

On the other hand, the minimal music content and the multiple repetitions accord with much recent choral repertoire, and this certainly fits squarely into the ‘spiritual’ category under which much liturgical music is recorded and sold these days. I’ll confess to being surprised by who little counterpoint there is on this disc, but it is clearly identifiable as music of the German baroque. Having said that, its affinity with the antiphonal music of Gabrieli and Monteverdi is striking.

I’ve nothing but praise for the performance and the recording. There seems to be a strong tradition in Germany at the moment of professional choirs releasing excellent recordings of early music via record labels in conjunction with public broadcasters, and the collaborators here are CPO and Radio Bremen. For as long as the results are to this standard, long may it continue!

Gavin Dixon 2010

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