SCHÜTZ St John Passion
Along with most of his other narrative works, Schütz’s three Passion settings date from the last decade of his life. Famously, they are in German and exclude instrumental participation, so that the bulk of the musical argument, focused on the role of the Evangelist, consists of monody of Schütz’s own devising. The St John Passion is shorter and less heavily populated than the composer’s better-known St Matthew, the dramatic tension residing chiefly in the triangle of Christ, Pilate and the Crowd, with Pilate as the fulcrum. One might say that the phrygian mode is itself a protagonist of sorts, its potential for instability driving the narrative forwards.
This is the first of the Schütz Passions that Rademann’s ensemble have commited to disc. They frame it with motets related to the Passion story, most notably the re enactment of the Last Supper, SWV495. This characteristically astute programming contrasts with the approach taken by Ars Nova under Paul Hillier, who have issued all six narrative works (including the Christmas and Resurrection Stories and the Seven Last Words) as a four-disc box-set with no ‘fillers’. Aided by their preferred acoustic, Ars Nova have the brighter sound, but the soloists’ persistent and at times distracting vibrato contrasts more sharply with the chorus’s straight tone than in Rademann’s reading, which I suspect will wear rather better as a result. (My preferences in this matter were largely formed by Hillier’s account of the St Matthew Passion with the Hilliards, in which everything was delivered straight and none the worse for it.) It will be fascinating to compare the two ensembles as Rademann and co reach the Mattthew and Luke settings; here, in any case, their choice of accompanying motets is affectingly rendered (yes, even the Litany) and perfectly judged.