SCHÜTZ Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi
Following his intriguing Machaut/Stravinsky Mass pairing (5/17), Simon-Pierre Bestion offers us a Resurrection History similarly recontextualised, associating it with selections from Johann Hermann Schein’s Israelis Brünnlein, which cut across it at regular intervals. Only purists, I think, would object to the resulting disruption of Schütz’s narrative: with fine accounts of the Resurrection History to choose from (for example Paul Hillier’s with Ars Nova – Dacapo, 6/10), there is surely space, as with Machaut’s Mass, for new approaches. (The same goes for Israelis Brünnlein, which exists complete from Cantus Cölln – Deutsche Harmonia Mundi – among others.)
In any case, Bestion rules himself out of direct comparison in other ways, allowing other instrumental consorts (beyond the usual viols) to take up the accompaniment at certain points, or making cuts to Schütz’s text. Again, some listeners will feel they are better served elsewhere; but the ensemble is of a quality sufficient to quell the doubts even of Cleophas (the selections from Israelis Brünnlein alone are worth the price of admission). Having recently regretted a certain sameness in recorded performances of this repertory, it would be churlish of me not to applaud a recording that does something different, and does it so well.
If there is a cloud over the proceedings, it is Bestion’s choice of Evangelist. Georges Abdallah is a cantor in the Byzantine tradition, and ornaments his part accordingly. This springs not directly from an espousal of the ‘oriental hypothesis’, as it is has been called when applied to earlier periods, but from Bestion’s not unrelated desire to defamiliarise the story. Whether this works as well with Schütz as with plainchant is debatable, but Abdallah’s diction is so audibly Gallic (or non-Germanic, anyway) that it’s that much harder to suspend disbelief. And on the rare but remarkable occasions where his part deviates from its usual corseted cast, intonation and tone lose their focus (try the beginning of track 18). Whether this amounts to miscalculation is a moot point but it dampens enjoyment of what is otherwise an inspired project.