Saturday, June 23, 2018

Schütz Project Concludes “Sacred Symphonies”

courtesy of Naxos of America

At the end of last week, German choral conductor Hans-Christoph Rademann’s project with Carus-Verlag to record the complete works of Heinrich Schütz reached a milestone of sorts. The eighteenth volume in the project consists of 27 “chamber” settings of sacred texts published as the second volume published under the title Symphoniae sacrae (sacred symphonies). This follows the release of the first volume as the fourteenth volume in the Carus collection, which took place in March of 2017, and the release of the third volume as the twelfth Carus volume in January of 2016.

As has already been observed, the title for each of these volumes was probably appropriated from Giovanni Gabrieli, who used it for two of his own collections. Schütz was no stranger to either Venice or the musical community there. Indeed, Venice provided him with refuge during the Thirty Years War, during which time both Gabrieli and Claudio Monteverdi, were both teachers and colleagues of Schütz. Presumably, Gabrieli had written his “symphonies” to be sung in the St Mark’s Basilica; and all the texts were in Latin. The same was the case for Schütz’ first volume, which was published in Venice in 1629. However, the remaining two volumes were published in Dresden in 1647 and 1750, respectively; and their texts are in German.

It has also already been explained that the idea of a “symphony” has nothing to do with current semantics. Based on its Greek origins, the word refers to a “concord of sound,” which involves a consonant blend of different sources, both vocal and instrumental. In our own semantics we would probably call these pieces “sacred chamber music,” taking many (most?) of the aria and duet settings in the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach as a point of reference.

With such “concord” in mind, Rademann has assembled an impressively diverse assortment of instruments, all of which play solo parts on the tracks to which they contribute. Those instruments are violins, zinken (a form of cornetto), recorders, trombones, dulcian (the predecessor of the bassoon), theorbo, violone, organ, and occasional percussion. In all probability the 27 pieces on this new recording were never meant to be performed as a group. However, through the diversity of both style and instrumentation, one can listen to either (or both) of the two CDs in the set from start to finish, simply because each track presents the music in its own characteristic light. As a result this new release makes for an engaging addition to the recordings accumulated thus far in Rademann’s project.

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