SCHÜTZ Musikalische Exequien
Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien require no introduction. So well known are they (courtesy of an extensive discography) that it’s easy to forget how unusual they are – especially the first section, by far the longest and surely one of the most original large-scale musical forms ever devised for Reformed worship. It is customary to pair it with a selection of the composer’s occasional commemorative works – notably that written in memory of his friend Johann Hermann Schein, Das ist je gewisslich wahr. This new recording from La Petite Bande follows this well-trodden format, resulting in the relatively short programme usual in recordings of the Exequien.
The group deploys two voices to a part and an organ for the continuo for the Exequien (other instruments are heard in the free-standing motets). The sound is bright and compact, albeit lacking perhaps the burnished warmth of some of its rivals, and the resulting interpretation has a welcome directness and clarity. It is, as they say, easy on the ear. But in a field as crowded and distinguished as this, one seeks insights to match Schütz’s perennially compelling rhetoric, not to mention the more memorable recordings that already exist (the Monteverdi Choir, Collegium Vocale Gent or, more recently, Vox Luminis and the Dresdner Kammerchor).
In the work’s first part, the affects of the different reduced sections might have been more sharply defined, and in the second, slight faults creep into the choral ensemble. In the final panel, the spatial separation between favoriti and the choir is clear but the temporal ambiguity between the two which makes this movement so memorable is less convincingly rendered. The accompanying works are well handled in the main – the opening Aus der Tiefe (SWV25) especially so.