Thursday 25 April 2024

A German in Venice - Schütz alongside music he could have heard in Venice, a wonderfully life-affirming disc

Schütz: A German in Venice - Schütz, Monteverdi, Rossi, Sances, Grandi, Cavalli; David de Winter, The Brook Street Band; FHR

Schütz: A German in Venice - Schütz, Monteverdi, Rossi, Grandi, Cavalli, Sances; David de Winter, The Brook Street Band, FHR;
Reviewed 24 April 2024

A wonderfully engaging and life-affirming disc which mixed Schütz's music with pieces he might have heard whilst he was in Venice in the 1620s

Heinrich Schütz had a huge life, born in 1585, the year that Thomas Tallis died and with Palestrina, Victoria and Guerrero still at the peak of their powers, he died in 1672 not long before the births of Telemann, Bach and Handel. His life encompassed the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), work in Dresden and Copenhagen including writing what might have been Germany's first opera, as well as years of study in Venice.

Schütz would spent two periods in Venice, 1609 to 1612 when he studied with Giovanni Gabrieli (the only person Schütz ever called his teacher) and secondly from 1628 (after Gabrieli's death) when Schütz was fleeing war-torn Dresden. It is this latter period that tantalises as there is no documentation for Schütz meeting Monteverdi yet one can see parallels and Schütz's music must have had an effect in Venice as his Symphoniae Sacrae I was first published there in 1629.

It is this Venetian Schütz that is the focus of Schütz: A German in Venice from tenor David de Winter and The Brook Street Band on FHR. On the disc, de Winter and the Brook Street Band perform motets by Schütz from Symphoniae Sacrae I (1629) and Symphoniae Sacrae II (1647) alongside music by Monteverdi, Salamone Rossi, Giovanni Felice Sances, Alessandro Grandi, and Francesco Cavalli.

In his booklet note, David de Winter explains that they wanted to perform music by Schütz alongside the sort of music he might have heard whilst he was in Venice in the late 1620s. It is indeed fascinating to listen to the disc where Schütz's motets are interleaved with music by the other composers and you can hear the way Schütz takes elements from the Italian master yet always remains his own man, particularly when it came to setting text and the majority of his pieces on the disc are German texted rather than Latin, aimed at the German audience. This was part of Schütz's skill, his ability to synthesise music and create something distinctive that is entirely fit for purpose.

Schütz's Symphoniae Sacrae of 1629 consists of 20 settings of Psalms and the Song of Solomon for one two three voices, all Latin texts, setting the texts as concertos, following Monteverdi with the words given in dramatic declamation rather than polyphony. But this approach chimed in with the ideas of the Reformation and the importance of the word. Schütz was in the service of the Protestant Elector of Saxony, Johann Georg I, and dedicated the collection to the Elector's son, crown prince Johann Georg II, then 16 years old. There would be two further collections, of Symphoniae Sacrae in 1647 and 1650, with German texts this time.

We begin with Schütz's Lobet den Herrn, gloriously celebratory and with David de Winter displaying a finely focused mobile tenor that brings out the elaborate ornamentation with a nice crispness. O süßer, O freundlicher is more intimate, de Winter makes it seems personal and more deeply felt. Exultavit cor meum has a lovely dance-like feel with a sense of real freedom from the performers. Paratum cor meum is engagingly dance-like in form, completely joyful. Ich werde nicht sterben also has a dance-like feel yet is more sober in style, befitting perhaps a more Lutheran setting. Cantabo Domino in vita mea alternates freely rhapsodic elements with more structured, yet never moving away from the initial text, this all about the music and the sense of singing to the Lord. Herr, unser Herrscher is another work over an engaging ground bass, taking de Winter's voice through a series of delightfully elaborate divisions. Ich danke dir Herr, the final Schütz work on the disc gives us a lovely snapshot of how the composer drew together the Venetian and Germanic influences to create his own particular style.

Monteverdi's Confitebor tibi Domine was posthumously published in 1650, it is a relatively sober chaconne-type piece with the instruments to the fore, providing a nice setting for de Winter's plangent tenor. Salomone Rossi was largely employed in Mantua, where he was a colleague of Monteverdi. We hear two short instrumental pieces from his Opus 12 published in 1636, Sonata sopra l’aria di Ruggiero and Sonata ottava sopra l’aria È tanto tempo hormai. The first lively and imaginative, a lovely pause point in the programme, the second having a somewhat Monteverdian feel to it.

Giovanni Felice Sances did spend time in Venice, but was also in Vienna and his Stabat Mater probably dates from then. It is a substantial piece and clearly a favourite of de Winter; he and the ensemble relish the work's intensity and Sances' use of chromaticism, creating a world akin to Dido's Lament or the aria by Cavalli that uses a similar ground bass. The forces used are relatively small, yet the performers bring a lovely intensity to work. Terrific indeed.

Alessandro Grandi and Francesco Cavalli were both Monteverdi's assistants at St Mark's in Venice. Like Schütz, Grandi studied with Giovanni Gabrieli and his Lauda Sion Salvatorem features a particularly luxurious ritornello, whilst his Decantabat populus Israel has an engaging directness to it. Cavalli's O quam suavis est is a chance to hear some rather ravishing music by a composer best known now for his operatic music.

Throughout the performances are excellent with David de Winter bringing great style to the music, engaging with the more ornamental passages with deceptive skill yet always highlighting the music and he is finely partnered by the Brook Street Band, creating a sense of vocal chamber music rather than a grand accompanied motet. We don't hear anything like enough Schütz and this wonderfully engaging disc makes you want to explore more.

David de Winter and The Brook Street Band will be performing music from the disc at Heath Street Baptist Church, Hampstead on 30 May 2024, further details from TicketSource.

Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585–1672) - Lobet den Herrn, SWV 350 (from Symphoniae sacrae II, Op. 10, pub. 1647)
Claudio MONTEVERDI (1567–1643) - Messa a quattro voci et salmi concertati (pub. 1650): No. 4, Confitebor tibi Domine, SV 193
Heinrich SCHÜTZ - O süßer, O freundlicher, SWV 285 (from Erster Theil kleiner geistlichen Concerten, Op. 8, pub. 1636)
Salamone ROSSI - Il terzo libro de varie sonate, sinfonie, gagliarde, brandi e corrente, Op. 12 (pub. 1623): Sonata sopra l’aria di Ruggiero
Heinrich SCHÜTZ - Exultavit cor meum, SWV 258 (from Symphoniae sacrae I, Op. 6, pub. 1629)
Giovanni Felice SANCES (1600–1679) - Stabat Mater (pub. 1638)
Heinrich SCHÜTZ - Paratum cor meum, SWV 257 (from Symphoniae sacrae I, Op. 6, pub. 1629)
Alessandro GRANDI (1586–1630) - Lauda Sion Salvatorem (pub. 1621)
Heinrich SCHÜTZ - Ich werde nicht sterben, SWV 346 (from Symphoniae sacrae II, Op. 10, pub. 1647)
Salamone ROSSI (1570–1630) - Il terzo libro de varie sonate, sinfonie, gagliarde, brandi e corrente, Op. 12 (pub. 1623): Sonata ottava sopra l’aria È tanto tempo hormai
Heinrich SCHÜTZ - Cantabo Domino in vita mea, WAB 260 (from Symphoniae sacrae I, Op. 6, pub. 1629)
Francesco CAVALLI (1602-1676) - 12. O quam suavis est (pub. 1625)
Heinrich SCHÜTZ - Herr, unser Herrscher (Psalm 8), SWV 343 (from Symphoniae sacrae II, Op. 10, pub. 1647)
Alessandro GRANDI - Decantabat populus Israel (pub. 1641)
Heinrich SCHÜTZ - Ich danke dir Herr, SWV 347 (from Symphoniae sacrae II, Op. 10, pub. 1647)
David de Winter tenor
The Brook Street Band (Rachel Harris & Kathryn Parry violin, Tatty Theo cello, Carolyn Gibley harpsichord, organ, Lynda Sayce theorbo, lute, Lisete da Silva Bull & Emily Bannister recorder)
Recorded at The Great Barn, Oxnead Hall, Norfolk, UK, 6-8 February 2023
FHR FHR145 1CD [82.44]

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