Tuesday, May 21, 2013

My Favorite Album - Doundou Tchil's Contribution

Heinrich Schütz, Historia der frölichen und siegreichen Auferstehung unser Herrn Jesus Christus (1623) 

Schütz was born one hundred years before J S Bach. He studied with Monteverdi, which probably makes him a link between the Italian and German baroque. Yet he was a Protestant, in an era where people killed each other over religion. He lived through the Thirty Years War, perhaps the most savage conflict Europe experienced before the 20th century. Millions were killed. Entire regions were devastated. Although Schütz worked for the Elector of Saxony in relative comfort, the world around him had been in turmoil since the Reformation. That kind of concentrates the mind. For Schütz, comfort was not a given. He writes glorious polyphony, but his beliefs were forged in fire.

Schütz's music is austere and deeply expressive. When you listen to things like Psalmen Davids or Musikalische Exequien you feel like you are totally alone in the darkness, sustained by faith in a power beyond human comprehension.  Schütz founded what is now the Staatskappelle Dresden but he didn't have job security. When he fell,out of favour, he became impoverished. His family died young. He lived until the age of 87 which in those days was like Methuselah.

The first time I heard the Aufersthungshistorie was on a broadcast from the composer's beloved Dresden, it was like a kind of epiphany. I can't explain it, but the music shone out like a blast of light, illuminating everything with a kind of pure spiritual clarity. I don't follow Schütz's religion yet it moved me in a way I've never been able to rationalize.Maybe he connects to something very deep in the human soul penetrating past the trappings off church and society.

Schütz's Resurrection Story is written for simple forces. It is an interplay between the Evangelist and choir of youthful voices, supported by a cache of different violas de gambe and positive organ. Speaking about Bible-based music, a friend of mine recently said "We all know the story". What is so moving about Schütz's version is that it feels vivid, fresh, immediate. Until very recently, the Bible had been in Latin, not in German. It must still have felt shocking to hear Jesus depicted by a group of young male voices, their voices weaving like shimmering light. We're so used to Bach now, that we take Evangelists for granted. But Schütz's Evangelist tells the story in clear, direct terms, as if he's recounting something amazing happening right before his eyes. Even though the story itself is so well known we take it for granted, it IS amazing. A man defies death itself and rises to glory.

Schütz's Auferstehungshistorie is so uplifting (editor's note: it is available on Spotify). In my running days I'd jog along listening to it as I ran. after an hour I was pretty whacked but then the glorious finale would kick in. Gott sei dank! sings the choir, in multiple harmonies, while the tenor soars above all Victoria! Victoria!, and the chorus joins in splendidly woven polyphony. No matter how tired I was, when that finale came on, suddenly I'd speed up before collapsing in joyous ecstasy. I can't run now, and I won't live to be 87. But when I'm decrepit and on the point of death, I suspect that "Victoria! Victoria!" will ring in my soul.

That's why I love the Peter Schreier recording above all others : He sounds genuinely excited, for nothing quite like this has ever happened before. Just days before, Jesus's followers had seen him die on the cross. Now suddenly he appears in their midst, speaks and even shares a meal with them. No wonder they can't believe their eyes. So Jesus sings "Sehet meine Hände und meine Füsse! Ich bin er selbst!" The voices bounce up and down with joy. Schreier's Evangelist creates a glowing aura like glanzende Kleider, around the other parts, for this is a miracle, not something prosaic. This performance is as unblasé as you can imagine.

The recording was made in 1972, in the dark days of the DDR when faith was perhaps as dangerous as it had been in Schütz's time. Even if the performers didn't share the composer's beliefs they knew who he was and what he stood for in early 17th century Dresden. You can hear clips from the whole Schreier recording, on the www.jpc.de website, and perhaps elsewhere. One of the male sopranos (singing Jesus and Mary Magdelene) is Olaf Bär, who's now a respected baritone.

Another reason for tracking down the Schreier version is that it was made in Dresden, whetre the Schutz tradition is very, very strong. What's more Schierer, who sings the Evanfgelist was the son asnd grandson of Kappelmeisters and a choirboy like Schutz was hundreds of years before. In February 1945, the ancient city of Dresden was destroyed by a firebom raid - totally unneccessary as it was a hospital and refuggee town. Young Schreier and the other choirboys were sheltering in a cellar, and escaped the mayhem. They were of course scared witless, worried about their families outside. Then their Kappellmeister told them to sing and they threw their hearts into it.

Doundou Tchil is an internationally renowned music blogger and critic who blogs at http://classical-iconoclast.blogspot.com/

Click here for Eta Boris's Contribution

Click here for HaWinograd's Contribution
Click here for Le Malon's Contribution
Click here for Atomic Sam's Contribution
Click here for La Swaynos's Contribution
Click here for Boulezian's Contribution
Click here for HaZmora's Contribution
Click here for The McBee's Contribution
Click here for Le Drgon's Contribution
Click here for The Brannock's Contribution
Click here for The Danny's Contribution
Click here for The Drioux's contribution
Click here for El Reyes's contribution
Click here for My contribtuion

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