SCHÜTZ Kleiner geistlichen Concerten II
It’s five years since Carus issued the first volume of Kleine geistliche Konzerte (Schütz published the two sets in 1636 and 1639) and 18 since Weser-Renaissance Bremen published both together on CPO. Most of the cast of the first Carus set appears here; and, as I noted at the time (10/14), the approach taken by the two ensembles is basically the same, despite differences as to pitch level and choice of voice type from piece to piece. That is perhaps the most surprising thing about this new release: listening to the two alongside each other one scarcely credits the age difference. Given the performing forces involved, there’s arguably little scope for differentiation; still, in several fundamental aspects – vocal quality, but especially rhetorical approach and ornamentation (not just in the voices but in the continuo) – significant change is hard to discern. Has a consensus been reached in the performance of this music? And if so, how healthy a state of affairs is that?
None of which is to say that these performances aren’t worth hearing. Although with 55 pieces across the two publications it’s hard to generalise, one discerns more risk-taking here: this ensemble responds to Schütz’s textual decisions with greater urgency – but not consistently, and it’s a pretty fine margin anyway. The tactus is usually quite unyielding, as though the continuo were leading the singers rather than the other way round. Admittedly, the same could be said of Weser-Renaissance; but to my ear, both voices and instruments are more secure and satisfying in the round. (Having alluded to the matter of pitch standard, one might add that those chosen for Carus do at times lead to strain at the top of the singers’ ranges.) Finally, CPO’s sound recording has a bloom that evades the more closely miked Carus. Playing safe, one could say that an ideal recording would combine the strengths of both; but having listened to many volumes of this fine series, I hope that there’s still time for something yet more adventurous.