Schein: Motets; Psalms of David; Te Deum

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COMPOSERS: Schein
LABELS: Glissando
WORKS: Motets; Psalms of David; Te Deum
PERFORMER: La Capella Ducale, Musica Fiata Köln/Roland Wilson
CATALOGUE NO: 779 006-2
Here is a revelation. Schein’s reputation has rested primarily on small-scale sacred music of madrigalian sensitivity. Now recent research has discovered, nearly 400 years on, these psalm settings on a grand scale, and a shattering Te Deum in 24 real parts plus trumpets and drums. Colours throughout are enchanting: three choirs have cornetti and trombones contrasting first with strings, then with a fizzing quartet of bass shawms. More subtle antiphony sets a hollow texture of two sopranos and bass against a richer four-part ensemble. Schein plays with echoes, always a tempting device when writing in stereophonic dialogue. But the most spine-chilling sonority of all is of voices with a gentle ‘mute cornet’, flute, trombones and the buzz of period bassoon.

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Schein uses contrasts – loud/quiet, large/small – to articulate extended form: Psalm 33 has a quite Vivaldian predictability of recurring tutti refrains. Elsewhere, in two lovely funeral motets, single words and fleeting moods shape the musical flow.

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The playing is outstanding, with impeccable intonation, despite the hazards of knife-edge technique. Penetrating vocal tone matches the instrumental sound. From the exquisite clarity of solo voices and instruments, to the mighty weight of the whole ensemble, this is thrilling stuff, not to be missed. George Pratt