Schein: Israelis Brünnlein

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LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
WORKS: Israelis Brünnlein
PERFORMER: Ensemble Vocal Européen/Philippe Herreweghe
Johann Hermann Schein, who worked in Saxony during the first three decades of the 17th century, was also a predecessor of Bach, first at the Weimar court, then as Thomaskantor at Leipzig. His collection Israelis Brünnlein comprises Old Testament texts in German set in all but one instance for five voices and basso continuo. As the full title of the anthology (1623) tells us, the pieces – 26 in all – are written in the manner of Italian madrigals. The imaginative way in which Schein places music at the service of the text is, perhaps, the most arresting and important aspect of the collection. The death of Jacob, depicted in the eighth madrigal, provides a vivid example of the potency and propriety of Schein’s depictive, declamatory style, which draws upon rhythmic contrast and affective harmonic shifts to underline key aspects of the text. Elsewhere, there are frequent dissonant harmonies and striking modulations which serve to intensify textual imagery. Ensemble Vocal Européen, consisting of six voices, is an experienced and accomplished ensemble. Its performance of these madrigals is poignant and exuberant in turn. Nicholas Anderson