Schütz Kleine geistliche Konzerte
Weser-Renaissance Bremen’s association with Schutz has already yielded a fine recording of the complete Geistliche Chormusik of 1648. A decade earlier, the composer had published two collections of sacred chamber ‘concertos’ of smaller dimensions, his response to straightened circumstances at the Saxon court during the Thirty Years’ War. Musically it responds to the new, declamatory vocal style that Schutz encountered on his second trip to Venice. He combines it with the through-composed, imitative style of his early years in a blend of genres that are uniquely personal and involving.
The two collections include a few pieces for up to five singers, and some with obbligato instruments (Ein Kind ist uns geboren, or the large-scale Ich hab mein Sach that concludes the first book), but the majority is for solo singers or duos (plus the mandatory continuo). There are also a few Latin-texted pieces, the remnants, perhaps, of a self-contained publication which had to be abandoned for financial reasons; but mostly the texts are German versions of the Old and New Testaments (some have texts in common with, and are musically similar to, the Musikalische Exequien of 1636).
Schutz largely steers clear of the chromatic luxuriance typical of many of his Italian models, adopting it only when the text positively cries out for it (try Was hast du verwirket II). He also avoids overtly vocal pyrotechnics: the emphasis really is on communicating the text subtly and effectively. These pieces reveal their art discreetly to an attentive listener. Don’t expect to be hit between the eyes: this is chamber music in both feel and fact. Another necessary observation is that Schutz’s audience wouldn’t have expected to hear many of these pieces together at one sitting, let alone the three hours’ music on offer here. So this huge set is best savoured in small batches. The current catalogue lists no other complete recording, and the cost (mid-price, effectively) should put it within reach of most collectors.
Self-recommending though they surely are, the interpretations are not quite as convincing as those of Cordes’s previous set. Part of the problem is technical: intonation and support, especially in the high voices, can sometimes falter (singing in thirds is a regular niggle), and I suspect that a lower pitch-standard might in some cases have helped put matters right. More puzzling is the reluctance on the part of all concerned to ornament beyond what Schutz himself prescribes. We know that the composer was keen to recruit native Italian singers for the Elector’s chapel. If a more ‘German’ reserve is intended (in line with Schutz’s measured attitude to virtuosity), I am not sure whether the concern is warranted. In any case, I can remember recordings from as long ago as the 1970s (those on the Nonesuch label spring to mind) where the singers took a noticeably freer attitude to such matters, and although many things since then have changed for the better, I sometimes miss the spirit that animated those old performances.
Not everything in this new set quite catches fire, or communicates the text in the dramatic way that is the