Schátz: Gestliche Chor-Music 1648

WORKS: Gestliche Chor-Music 1648
PERFORMER: Dresden Chamber choir; Cappella Sagittariana Dresden/Hans-Christoph Randemann
Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) published this set of motets long after he had visited first Gabrieli then Monteverdi in Italy, and enthusiastically introduced their modern styles to Dresden. He described the old, polyphonic style of the Chor-Music as a ‘hard nut in which the kernel and fundament of good counterpoint is to be sought’. But passion and drama lie close to its surface – a continuo bass-line, words set colourfully, and players invited to add instruments and contrasts. The Dresden Choir performs many motets a cappella and do it very well with 20 clean, fresh and lively voices. The gentle ‘I lie down and sleep in peace’ (No. 11) is beautifully tuned; the stinging dissonances of sowing in ‘sorrow’ contrast vividly with ‘rejoicing’ at a fruitful harvest (Psalm 126). In the later motets Schütz specifies instruments, here a rich buzz of trombones, dulcians and strings from Cappella Sagittariana. Their sound is enhanced by the ambience of a Dresden church, apt if not quite authentic – the set was dedicated to Leipzig’s Thomasschule. Compared though with my on-going benchmark, Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan, there are some missed opportunities. ‘Die Himmel erzählen’ is sung full, without Schütz’s specified contrasting solo voices; the Christmas ‘Es is ein Kind’ has barely any spatial separation between the choirs in dialogue; alto and tenor soloists are buried by weighty brass in ‘Was mein Gott will’. Above all, Suzuki couples earnest conviction with a sense of sheer delight in the musical invention of this remarkable collection.