Sometimes a new recording comes along that really just blows me away – and such is the new release by Norbert Schuster, the vocal ensemble amarcord, and the instrumental ensemble Cappella Saggitariana Dresden, titled "Jauchzet dem herren alle welt: Schutz und Italien," volume 2 of their series Musik aus der Dresdner Schlosskapelle.
This artfully assembled program takes one through the long career of the greatest 17th century German composer, Heinrich Schutz (1585-1672), interspersing samples of his music with the music of his Italian teachers and Italian and German contemporaries who influenced him or were influenced by him. What makes this special, apart from the excellence of the musical selections, is the sheer enthusiasm with which the ensemble performs the music under Schuster's inspired leadership.
The program begins with a selection from Schutz's first publication, his only book of madrigals, composed while he was studying in Italy with the great Giovanni Gabrielli, who required all of his students to compose a book of madrigals in order to learn that style. This is followed, of course, by a work of Gabrielli, his great large-scale motet "In Ecclesias" from the second volume of his Sacred Symphonies, with one of his brass canzons appended as a coda.
Then back to Schutz, with a selection from his first published opus after he returned to Germany, the Psalms of David – in this case the brilliant setting of Psalm 111. Then we get a sacred concerto (music for voices and instruments) by Michael Praetorius, a slightly older contemporary of Schutz who influenced him greatly, and whose music sacred choral music is a close cousin of Schutz's psalm settings.
Then we get a piece by Shutz's great Italian counterpart, which whom he maintained a devoted friendship and correspondence, Claudio Monteverdi, the wonderful seven-voice Gloria from Selva morale e spirituale. Rarely have I heard such energetic and enthusiastic a performance of a sacred piece by Monteverdi, and I've heard lots and lots of live and recorded performances. This performance is guaranteed to lift your spirits.
Then it's back to Schutz, with one of his own sacred concerti, a selection from his second published volume of Sacred Symphonies. Then on to two relatively obscure Italian contemporaries of Schutz, Carlo Pallavicino and Marco Giuseppe Peranda (no, I'd never heard of either before), with excellent pieces for voices with instruments that seem to have been influenced heavily by Schutz's examples in the genre.
To close out the program, we get the setting of Psalm 100 from Schutz's final collection, published posthumously as Der Schwanengesang – the Swan Song. This provides the name for the entire program: Make a Joyful Noise to the Lord, all the World!
This is the best possible introduction to the glorious sound of Heinrich Schutz that I could imagine, and highly recommended to anyone ready to take the plunge into 17th century sacred music. The recording is on the Raum Klang label, and boasts excellent sound. There are full texts with translations in the booklet. The source of each selection is clearly specified, and the notes by Schuster and Dr. Katrin Bemmann provide an excellent introduction to the program.