Schütz: Musikalische Exequien, SWV 279, 280, 281; Kleine geistliche Konzerte, SWV 283, 285, 309 & 310; Symphoniae sacrae, SWV 356 & 360

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Schutz
LABELS: Koch
WORKS: Musikalische Exequien, SWV 279, 280, 281; Kleine geistliche Konzerte, SWV 283, 285, 309 & 310; Symphoniae sacrae, SWV 356 & 360
PERFORMER: Christine Brandes, Judith Nelson, Emily Van Evera (soprano), Judith Malafronte (alto), Daniel Taylor (countertenor), Jeffrey Thomas, Benjamin Butterfield, Nils Brown (tenor), James Weaver, Kurt Owen Richards (bass); American Bach Soloists & Choir, Concent
CATALOGUE NO: 3-7432-2

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When it first appeared, John Eliot Gardiner’s version of Schütz’s Musikalische Exequien with the Monteverdi Choir was hailed as a benchmark recording – much more satisfying than either Linde’s account (EMI), or Herreweghe’s (Harmonia Mundi). That was ten years ago. Now there are two new recordings, which both provide a more substantial challenge to Gardiner’s still highly desirable alternative. The Sixteen highlights the liturgical function of the Musikalische Exequien, coupling it with Schütz’s settings of the canticles (Magnificat and Nunc dimittis) and Lord’s Prayer (Vater unser). Christophers directs his team with customary interpretative flair, as beautifully controlled solos contrast with luminous textures from the full choir. Outstanding recording presence underlines The Sixteen’s heavenly singing in the Exequien and gives their expressiveness added intensity in the rest of the programme. The American Bach Soloists perform with comparably impressive poise in the Exequien, but they lack the overall consistency of their rivals. Their careful shaping in the first part occasionally sounds stilted. However, a quicker tempo and higher pitch in the motet Herr, wenn ich nur dich habe creates increased vigour, and they convey the impression of spatial distance in the third part more effectively than The Sixteen does. The Americans’ selections from the Kleine geistliche Konzerte and Symphoniae sacrae contain fine solo singing, effectively blending vocal display and dramatic characterisation. Each of these new releases is attractive in its own way, but, for all The Sixteen’s seductive refinement, the Americans come closer to the concerto style required by Schütz’s score of the Musikalische Exequien. Nicholas Rast