Heinrich Schütz: Lukas-Passion
01 September 2009
Since moving on from the Hilliard Ensemble to pastures new in the late 1980s, Paul Hillier has continued to produce some outstanding discs of early music, most recently with the expert small choir Ars Nova Copenhagen (which he has directed since 2003). The 14 singers in this performance of Heinrich Schütz's St Luke Passion sing with superb diction, poise, intonation, blend and expressiveness. This is no mean feat because Schütz's solemn setting is entirely a cappella, in accordance with the Dresden court's tradition that during Holy Week all musical instruments were silenced. Apart from the short opening and concluding choruses, the music is a narration of the Passion as it is related in the Gospel of Luke, intoned by solo voices as narrative plainchant with occasional choral passages (such as the crowd of onlookers at the Crucifixion wondering if Christ will save himself).
The excellent sound recording has an attractive amount of reverberation, which is shrewdly manipulated by Johan Linderoth and Jakob Block Jespersen, who never slip under pitch or lose lustre during their intoning, and are careful to remain sensitive and alive to the text. Half of the 12 chorus singers chip in with occasional solo turns (for example, lines for Peter, Pilate and the Centurion). Choral interjections, though few and far between, and the marvellous introductory and concluding choruses, are immaculately sung by Ars Nova Copenhagen. This is the first release in a projected series of four discs exploring Schütz's narrative works ("Historia") and, on this evidence, the series will be manna from heaven for admirers of the greatest German composer before Bach.