Heinrich Schutz - Weihnachtshistrie, Auferstehunghistorie

Published Wednesday 16th December 2009
Heinrich Schutz - Weihnachtshistrie, Auferstehunghistorie
Heinrich Schutz - Weihnachtshistrie, Auferstehunghistorie

STYLE: Choral
RATING 7 7 7 7 7 7 7
LABEL: Dacapo 8226058

Reviewed by Steven Whitehead

The vocal group Ars Nova Copenhagen under conductor Paul Hillier here present the second recording in a series devoted to the narrative works ("Historia") of Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672). Thus we get a Christmas History and a Crucifixion History but the content of this review will repeat much of what was said for the first recording in the series, 'Lukas-Passion'. The presentation is superb, including the beautiful cover art, the comprehensive liner notes, the audiophile sound quality of the recording, as well as the vocal skills of Ars Nova Copenhagen plus soloists and the musicianship of Concerto Copenhagen. But there is a "but" on its way . . . the content still fails to satisfy this reviewer. The source material is, of course, great but the way the composer handles it deadens its impact for a modern listener. This manner of criticism is deeply unfair as Schutz could not be expected to write for a twenty-first century audience and was in fact ahead of his own times as he took church music away from the simpler plainchant that had dominated the setting of sacred texts for centuries and moved towards a more modern use of polyphony. When the choir move into top gear the effect is glorious; the concluding "Victorias" in "Gott sei Dank" ("Thanks Be To God") are wonderful and well worth hearing but too much of the remaining seventy-eight minutes is recitative in German. No doubt this was considered a radical step forward from singing or chanting in Latin but it nevertheless leaves this reviewer less than thrilled. This is entirely my problem as this release on a Danish label celebrates the contribution that the German composer made to Danish church music during his eleven year tenure as Kapellmeister to King Christian IV. Those of us who are neither Danish nor German should perhaps leave them to it after recognising what a good job the performers have done with what is, in my opinion, limited material.

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.

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