Thursday 13 April 2023

What came after: Schütz' telling of the Resurrection story in Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi proves masterly

Henrich Schütz: Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi; Ensemble Polyharmonique, Alexander Schneider; Accentus

Henrich Schütz: Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi; Ensemble Polyharmonique, Alexander Schneider; Accentus
Reviewed 11 April 2023

Schütz' less well-known telling of the Resurrection story proves to be a concentrated, understated masterpiece in this performance from the distinguished vocal ensemble

The post-Reformation vernacular recitation from the Bible during Holy Week wasn't just restricted to the Passion story. There was a parallel recitation of the Resurrection story, the discovery of the tomb by the disciples and by the Marys. The first such musical version dates from 1550, and the standard text wasn't strictly from the Gospel, instead it was a reconciliation of the narrations from all four Gospels. The handiwork of Luther’s colleague Johann Bugenhagen in 1526, it was widely read in Lutheran churches of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

It is this text which forms the basis for Henrich Schütz' Historia der Auferstehung Jesu Christi. On this new disc from Ensemble Polyharmonique, director Alexander Schneider, on Accentus, Schütz' Resurrection Story is given centre stage.

A musical version of the Resurrection story was a fixture at the Dresden Court where Schütz started work in 1615. Schütz would write his own version in 1623 (some 40 years before the better-known Christmas Story), but for some reason, this wonderful work is less well-known than some of Schütz' other oratorios. It is a compact work, with the focus on the Evangelist (here Johannes Gaubitz) who has the bulk of the narration, with shorter moments for the other characters in the story. 

Schütz had been studying in Italy, in Venice with Giovanni Gabrieli, from 1609 to 1612 and some of that Italian influence can be felt in this music. But it is not pure Italian style, Schütz melds the Italian with the German in a way which would come to typify his output. So the Evangelist's recitation, accompanied by viols, has a strong feeling of chant but with moments of Monteverdian Italian recitative at the more dramatic moments. Schütz concentrates on the words, making sure they are clear and the music is in service of the words.

By contrast, the other characters are more madrigalian as each is represented by two voices (including Jesus), or three voices for the groups of people. These are accompanied by other instruments, and the interactions between the Evangelist's recitation and the madrigalian responses are part of the work's charm. 

It is not a showy piece, it is concentrated and thoughtful. Schütz seems to have suggested that it might be performed with the Evangelist on-stage and the other voices hidden, which would have brought an element of intriguing dramaturgy to the performance. This recording from the Berlin-based Ensemble Polyharmonique, directed by Alexander Schneider, comes in parallel with a new film which is being released later this month, intended to explore the work in a 21st-century aspect.

For this recording, Schneider has expanded Schütz' piece somewhat. We begin with Schütz' very Italianate Surrexit pastor bonus, followed by a Sinfonia 'Da pacem' by Franz Tunder (Buxtehude's predecessor in Lübeck), then throughout the Resurrection Story, Schneider punctuates the piece with other Schütz sinfonias, and the disc ends with Michael Praetorius' Halleluja - Christ ist erstanden, which provides an upbeat ending, following Schütz' rather sober conclusion.

Whilst Schütz might not have considered it, I rather liked this expansion of the work and feel that the punctuation with the instrumental movements does rather help the flow. Throughout, the performers bring out the Italian flavours of the music; there are plenty of passages that seem straight out of Gabrieli. But, a lot of the focus is on Johannes Gaubitz as the Evangelist. His diction is clear, though having the printed text helps a bit (there is no translation in the booklet). He has quite a narrow-focused voice with something of an edge to it but brings a naturalism to his delivery. Perhaps the plain recitation is a little too plain, but there is a fine range of colours and effects in his voice when Schütz includes vocal flourishes.

The other singers provide a lovely sense of contrast, each group taking a slightly different colouration but always Schütz' Italian madrigals feeling in the background. And though 14 instrumentalists were involved, the whole has a concentrated, understated quality which is very particular to this work.

The booklet includes a highly metaphysical essay by Olivier Geisler which did not always feel helpful and a little more basic historical and biographical background would have been welcome. But for all the project's rather strongly philosophical bent, the performance itself has the right combination of concentration, intimacy and drama.

Further information about the project and the film from the project website.

Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672) - Surrexit pastor bonus
Franz Tunder - Sinfonia 'Da pacem'
Heinrich Schütz - Auferstehungshistorie
Michael Praetoriua (1571-1621) - Halleluja - Christ is erstanden

Ensemble Polyharmonique
Alexander Schnedier (direction)

EVANGELIST - Johannes Gaubitz
JESUS - Alexander Schneider, Christian Volkmann
MARIA MAGDALENA - Joowon Chung, Magdalene Harer
DIE DREI MARIEN - Marie Luise Werneburg, Joowon Chung, Magdalene Harer
ZWEEN ENGEL - Benjamin Glaubitz, Sören Richter
KLEOPHAS - Sören Richter
GESELL - Benjamin Glaubitz
HOHENPRIESTER - Felix Rumpf, Matthias Lutze, Stefan Drexlmeier
JÜNGLING IM GRABE Jonathan Mayenschein, Wolfram Lattke

BAROQUE VIOLIN - Irina Kisselova, Catherine Aglibut
THEORBO/LUTE - Thomas Ihlenfeldt
THEORBO/PANDORA - Johannes Gontarski
BAROQUE HARP - Maximilian Ehrhardt
BAROQUE TROMBONE - Henning Wiegräbe, Florian Helbich, Sabine Gassner, Yosuke Kunihira
DULCIAN - Moni Fischaleck
ORGAN/REGAL - Klaus Eichhorn

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