Schutz (Die) Sieben Worte
We do not know the original circumstances of Schütz’s poignant Die sieben Worte, nor can we be sure exactly what the five instrumental parts were played by; two instruments always accompany the crucified Christ’s seven last remarks, and the remaining three join in the short solemn Symphonia that is played twice, near each end of the work. Most performances adopt the sensible editorial policy of using five string instruments but Paul Hillier has chosen to use only two viola da gambas on the top lines (and in the passages accompanying Jesus), and assigns the three lower parts in the Symphonia to sackbuts. Whether or not this accords with Schütz’s intentions is impossible to know but the resultant sonority is breathtaking. The five singers of Ars Nova Copenhagen blend beautifully in the deeply expressive Introitus and the fantastic quality of consort singing is no more notable than the touching communication of the text. Each singer performs their solo lines insightfully, especially Adam Riis’s Jesus and Jacob Bloch Jespersen’s penitent Thief. Even if admirers of Schütz already have a favourite recording of Die sieben Worte, this spellbinding performance is well worth acquiring.
Manfred Cordes and his musicians of Bremen have several important Schütz recordings discs under their belt and now they pair five penitential psalms with the eloquent Musikalische Exequien. The performance uses single voices on each part: the group of nine singers includes experienced soloists such as Monika Mauch, Knut Schoch and Dominik Wörner. Cordes produces a fine alternative to the smoother “choral” versions by John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir (DG, 11/88 – long overdue a reissue), Harry Christophers and The Sixteen (Coro, 1/99R) and Philippe Herreweghe’s La Chapelle Royale (Harmonia Mundi, 8/88R). The shorter motet Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe and the Venetian-influenced Canticum Simeonis (the Nunc dimittis) are captivatingly sung, and Schütz’s word-painting in psalms Ach Herr, straf mich nicht and Aus der Tiefe is extraordinary.