SCHÜTZ Musicalische Exequien
If you had not noticed before that the Musicalische Exequien – the 30-minute funeral sequence Schütz composed in 1636 for Prince Heinrich Posthumus von Reuss – is a masterpiece, then this disc should go some way towards convincing you. Schütz took his texts from Reuss himself, or more specifically from the biblical extracts he ordered to be inscribed on his densely decorated sarcophagus, so it does not have quite the same specifically personal hinterland as the work with which it is often compared, Brahms’s German Requiem. Neither does it draw on the same resources, being written for a small ensemble of voices with simple continuo accompaniment, yet the skill and refinement with which Schütz juggles solo and tutti passages, and the depth and emotional precision of his response to the text, results in something no less profound and no less moving in its utterly Lutheran vision of death as welcome release from the world’s travails into God’s loving care. Listening to the plangent concluding Nunc dimittis, one has to wonder if death has ever seemed more noble or sublime.
The 12 voices of Belgian ensemble Vox Luminis put their faith in tonal focus and sweetly balanced textures. Though one might expect from that a certain coolness, their singing produces music-making of intimate, aching beauty. The recorded sound, gently resonant, is perfect. This great work is preceded by other funeral motets by Schütz, including two more settings of the Nunc dimittis and a heartfelt musician’s memorial to the composer Schein. In Vox Luminis’s hands even the four verses of Luther’s unison chorale Mit Fried und Freud tugs at the heart. A marvellous disc.