SCHUTZ: Christmas Story / Cantiones Sacrae (David Trendell/ Jeremy Summerly/ Oxford Camerata) (Naxos: 8.553514)
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Heinrich Sch??tz (1585 - 1672)
The Christmas Story - Weinachtshistorie (SWV435)
Cantiones sacrae (SWV 81, 69, 53-4) (1625)
Der 100. Psalm (SWV 36)
One might naturally assume that a composer wouldgo to any lengths to have his work published. Indeed Sch??tz tried to get asmuch of his music into print as possible during his lifetime - the majority ofhis five hundred surviving pieces were issued in a series of fourteencollections spanning a period of fifty years from 1611 to 1661. Of thesefourteen publications, nine were issued in Dresden, two each in Venice andFreiberg, and one in Leipzig. However, a substantial part of Sch??tz's outputremained unpublished owing to the intervention of war and resultant financialhardship. Of this unpublished music, much has been lost, the most significantof it owing to fires in Dresden and Copenhagen in the century after Sch??tz'sdeath. One can only lament the loss of such a substantial corpus of music,coming as it did from the pen of the first German composer of internationalrepute.
In spite of the fact that Sch??tz was keen tohave the bulk of his music published, the case of The Christmas Story isdifferent. Sch??tz allowed only part of the work to be available for sale: thatof the music sung by the Evangelist. The rest of the piece (the Introduction,Conclusion, and the eight Intermedia) was only available for hire.
Sinister as it sounds, it seems that only musicians of a certain standard wereallowed to hire these movements. As Sch??tz himself put it: 'Other than inwell-appointed royal chapels, this music cannot be adequately performed'. So,what of those musicians who did not make the grade? How were they to performthis 17th century masterwork? For those unfortunates, the advice was tointersperse the Evangelist's recitatives with any music that they saw fit. Onemight be tempted to regard this policy as somewhat short-sighted, for whatevermusical crimes a well-meaning group of dilettantes might have committed duringa performance of The Christmas Story, it would surely be more desirableto allow them access to the complete work rather than to encourage sub-standardmusicians to tamper with its dramatic structure. Given Sch??tz's possessive andterritorial attitude towards The Christmas Story, any group of musiciansthat undertakes its performance must do so with a certain degree oftrepidation, even three centuries after the composer's death.
The Christmas Story isa succession of set pieces linked by narrative. Sch??tz's genius is mostapparent in his use of the different textures that paint this series ofChristmas portraits. The chorus is reserved for three Intermedia; thealmost matter-of-fact Introduction, the declamatory Conclusion, andthe appearance of the Company of Angels (the most lavish and characterful ofthe choir's three movements). The Angel's three Intermedia arecharacterized by the accompaniment of two violas -a particularly effectivesonority. Whereas another composer might naturally have leaned towards the useof high instruments in an angelic context, in Sch??tz's hands the urgencyof the Angel's message is lent gravitas as well as optimism. Herod isaccompanied in fittingly regal style by cornetts, and his duplicitous HighPriests by sackbuts (this six- part low-voiced texture of Intermedium V beingone of the most individual sonorities of the 17th century). The Shepherds areplaced in their rough-and- ready rustic setting to the accompaniment of a pairof recorders and a dulcian, while violins introduce the Wise Men whose bluffsagacity is enhanced by the dulcian's low tessitura. The Evangelist is calledupon to link these diverse portraits in accordance with the drama of theChristmas message and is variously required to be objective narrator,subjective commentator, and mouthpiece of prophetic fulfilment - nowhere moreeffectively as the latter than in the extended recollection of the Vox inRama passage from the Book of the Prophet Jeremiah (Auf dem Gebirge).
The remainder of the music on this recordingcomprises music written earlier in Sch??tz's career. The Cantiones sacrae (op.
4) were published in Freiberg in 1625 - a collection of over forty sacredpieces. These Latin motets are often reminiscent of earlier Italian models.
Some of the textures and the stranger dissonances seems to hark back to musicwritten a few years earlier by the likes of Monteverdi and Gesualdo, and a worksuch as Cantate Domino shows the obvious influence of Gabrieli with whomSch??tz had studied in Venice between 1610 and 1612. Gabrieli's influence isequally obvious in the virtuosic German setting of the 100th Psalm (fromSch??tz's op. 2). The alternation of a large and a small choir is particularlyVenetian, although Sch??tz has his own inimitable way of handling the Germantext. The Gloria of the psalm (beginning Ehre sei dem Vater) iswonderfully inventive: the two choirs cease their competition and the uppervoices answer one another effortlessly; thereafter the lower voices gently joinin until the vigorous antiphonal effect is finally restored for the Amen.
1996 Jeremy Summerly
The Oxford Camerata was formed in order to meetthe growing demand for choral groups specializing in music from the Renaissanceera. It has since expanded its repertoire to include music from the medievalperiod to the present day using instrumentalists where necessary. The Cameratahas made a variety of recordings for Naxos spanning the music of nine centuriesand in 1995 was awarded a European Cultural Prize.
Jeremy Summerly studied Music at New College,Oxford from where he graduated with First Class Honours in 1982. For the nextseven years he worked for BBC Radio and it was during this time that he foundedthe Oxford Camerata and undertook postgraduate research at King's College,London. In 1989 he became a lecturer at the Royal Academy of Music and in thefollowing year he was appointed conductor of Schola Cantorum of Oxford. In 1991he signed a long-term contract with Naxos to record a variety of music withSchola Cantorum and the Oxford Camerata. In 1996 he was appointed Head ofAcademic Studies at the Royal Academy of Music, and he currently divides histime between lecturing, researching, conducting, and writing and presentingprogrammes for BBC Radio 3.