Heinrich Schütz: Weihnachtshistorie; Auferstehungshistorie
29 September 2010
A sumptuous disc that proves Schütz's phenomenal mastery: don't hesitate
In 1664 the 79-year-old Schütz published the Christmas Story. This new recording by Paul Hillier and Ars Nova Copenhagen, the second in their series devoted to Schütz's narrative works ("Historia"), couples it with the much earlier Resurrection Story, written in about 1623, only a few years after the composer was appointed Kapellmeister at Dresden. Schütz may be rightly regarded as the genius who bridges the gap between Monteverdi's madrigals and Bach's cantatas but several artists and labels have admitted to me that recording his music is commercial suicide. This is a crying shame. If any reminder were necessary, these Danish performances provide ample and conclusive proof that Schütz is a phenomenal master of his chosen idioms: his harmonic imagination, fantastic word-painting and profound expressivity are intensely rewarding for those willing to devote a little time and attention to his music.
The beginning of the Christmas Story immediately establishes that the instrumental playing of the dozen-strong Concerto Copenhagen is of the very highest quality: the tasteful continuo playing and sympathetic violin ritornellos are a pleasure to hear. The pastoral effect of the recorders accompanying the shepherds' trio is gorgeous and the soft sackbuts give magnificent support to the quartet of Herod's chief priests and scribes. Ars Nova Copenhagen reaffirms its status as an outstanding vocal ensemble with luminous and pure choral singing. Its members also provide excellent solos: Adam Riis's soothing Evangelist perfectly narrates the nativity tale, Else Torp radiantly proclaims the good news to the shepherds and Jakob Block Jespersen's regal Herod is frighteningly persuasive and plausible. The different groups of shepherds and wise men perform their contrapuntal trios with clarity and eloquence. Hillier paces and shapes Schütz's music to perfection, allying flawless performance practice to distinctively warm-hearted story-telling. These qualities are also fully to the fore in an immaculately poised performance of the Resurrection Story, during which Johan Linderoth's compassionate Evangelist is emotively partnered with Hille Perl's consort Sirius Viols. Schütz recordings of such ardent beauty are much too rare, so this is not to be missed.