Wednesday 6 April 2022

Alertness and vivacity: Geoffroy Jourdain and Les Cris de Paris in Heinrich Schütz

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) - David & Solomon; works from Psalmen Davids sampt etlichen Moteten und Concerten, Op. 2 (1619), Cantiones sacræ, Op. 4 (1625), and Symphoniæ sacræ I, Op. 6 (1629)

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) - David & Salomon; works from Psalmen Davids sampt etlichen Moteten und Concerten, Op. 2 (1619), Cantiones sacræ, Op. 4 (1625), and Symphoniæ sacræ I, Op. 6 (1629)
Les Cris de Paris, Geoffroy Jourdain; HARMONIA MUNDI
Reviewed: 4 April 2022, (★★★★)

We don't hear anything like enough Schütz, a large part of his richly imaginative output remains largely unexplored; I don't mean that it is unrecorded, just that there are simply not enough performances given the sheer quality and imagination of the music. This new disc from Geoffroy Jourdain and Les Cris de Paris on Harmonia Mundi, David et Salomon, brings together works from Psalmen Davids sampt etlichen Moteten und Concerten, Op. 2 (1619), Cantiones sacræ, Op. 4 (1625), and Symphoniæ sacræ I, Op. 6 (1629).

Jourdain uses a vocal ensemble of 22 singers, who also provide the solo singers, plus 23 instrumentalists, a sort of proto-orchestra that includes harp, theorbo/guitar, harpsichord and organ. And Jourdain avails himself of the freedom that Schütz seems to allow performers in his preface to Psalmen Davids. This work was published after his three years in Venice, spent studying with Giovanni Gabrieli and the music from Psalmen Davids is imbued with the spirit of Venetian cori spezzati, yet with German words and, as revealed in the preface, a degree of practicality; Schütz recognised that few German courts would have the resources to perform this music with a full range of instrumental colours.

Jourdain opens with a gorgeous account of Alleluja, Lobet den Herrn which recalls the spirit of Venice in its glory days. The contrast between solo voices and tutti, which was important to Schütz, is kept and emphasised. This is a performance which sparkles with delight in the dancing lines, there is never the sense that we are listening to choral music, simply music for a variety of choirs whether vocal, instrumental or mixed. The result is glorious, and you could not be but entranced. They follow this with another work from Psalmens DavidsDie mit Tränen säen and another independent work, Ich beschwöre euch, ihr Töchter zu Jerusalem (Dialogus), both less richly written yet still full of wonders.

We then move on to two works from Symphoniæ sacræ I, Op. 6. These were published soon Schütz's second visit to Venice, made at a time when Germany was engaged in the Thirty Year War (which ended in 1648). In Venice this time, Schütz may have met Monteverdi; whether he did or no, he clearly imparted the developments that took place within music as the cor sprezzati of the Gabrielis had given way to Monteverdi's seconda prattica. This concentration of forces was very much in tune with the times, and certainly Schütz's employer (the Elector of Saxony) would not have had the wherewithal for lavish scale music.

Anima mea liquefacta est and Adjuro vos, filiæ Jerusalem are both stunning performances, just two tenors, two cornets and continuo. We have moved from German to Latin, which probably reflects the preferences of the court in Dresden. Spiritually we have moved away from the grandeur of the opening works to something more intimate, yet still richly imaginative and highly textures. 

An instrumental work by Samuel Scheidt (from Ludi musici of 1621) provides a pause point, and then we return to Psalmens Davids for An den Wassern zu Babel and Warum toben die Heiden. The first features voices more strongly, whereas the second returns us to the brilliance of the opening, with voices and instruments interacting in choirs. As always there is a vitality to the performances which is invigorating, the German language dancing as much as the music.

For Ego dormio et cor meum vigilat and Vulnerasti cor meum, filia charissima we turn to Cantiones sacræ of 1625. This is music written for a highly practical purposes, for his then patron during the early years of the Thirty Years War and so for just four voices (SATB, here soprano, two tenors and baritone) and continuo. Yet all we can do is marvel at the rich imagination of this music, written by a composer who was working for an employer (the Elector of Saxony) who was trying to stay neutral yet war was swirling around them (and it is worthwhile remembering that it is considered one of the most destructive wars in European history). Politics is not entirely absent, there is a sense of angst-ridden intensity in the way Schütz writes for the intertwining voices.

We then return to Symphoniæ sacræ for O quam tu pulchra es, amica mea and Veni de Libano, veni, amica mea, which highlight another factor in this music. The way Schütz opted for texts from the Songs of Songs which enables a sense of vivid emotionalism in the service of religion. For the first we have intertwining tenor and baritone, for the second two sopranos, and in both the two voices supported by richly textured continuo, and the second seeming to breathe the same air of some of Monteverdi's similar works. Simply marvellous music, that seems to bridge a number of areas, and makes you marvel at the human spirit.

We end with two works from Psalmen DavidsHerr, unser Herrscher and Danket dem Herren, denn er ist freundlich and we are back to the gorgeousness of the opening. This is a rich diet and you can understand why Jourdain has opted for this fascinating programme which compares and contrasts. But what makes the programme is the alertness and vivacity of the performances, whether in intimate or grand mode, Les Cris de Paris impress. More please!

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) - works from Psalmen Davids sampt etlichen Moteten und Concerten, Op. 2 (1619), Cantiones sacræ, Op. 4 (1625), and Symphoniæ sacræ I, Op. 6 (1629)
Les Cris de Paris
Geoffroy Jourdain
Recorded April 2021, Église protestante unie du Saint-Esprit, Paris

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