Johann Hermann Schein
Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630) has been overshadowed by his friends and colleagues Heinrich Schütz (1585-160) and Gottfried Scheidt (1593-1661). Schütz was the best of them and he’s well-represented on recordings, but according to Arkivmusic.com, (the definitive CD retail site), there are only 67 recordings of Schein’s music currently available.
Thankfully, this new recording by the French ensemble Sagittarius and their director Michel Laplénie will do much for Schein’s reputation. Sagittarius, an ensemble whose recordings of Charles Levens’ music I’ve written about in the defunct Goldberg Early Music magazine, have just released an outstanding new recording of selections from Schein’s Opella Nova and Fontana d’Israel (Hortus 075).
There are two volumes of Opella Nova concertos for voices and instruments. The first volume was published in 1618 and the second, less stylistically conservative collection, in 1626. Schein was one of the first German Protestant composers to assimilate the Italian style and write vocal concertos based on German chorale tunes—that’s a tasty blend! There are some fine works in the collection. “Aus tiefer Not” (from Psalm 129) is powerfully cast for soprano, tenor and continuo. “O Jesu Christie, Gottes Sohn” for soprano, solo violin and continuo and “Erbarm dich” for solo tenor and the same instrumental forces. The performances are all terrific. I was impressed with the sensitive playing of violinist Johannes Prahmsohler and sopranos Dagmar Saskova and Sophie Pattey really shine in a gorgeous setting of “Von Himmel hoch.” Best of all was “Komm heiliger Geist.” This is a marvelously melodic work that receives a perfect performance with tenor Olivier Fichet singing from the church gallery (the record was made at St-Etienne-de-Baïgorry Church in the French Basque country) while the two sopranos sing the chorale melody in the nave. Lovely!
Fontana d’Israel, published in 1623, has enjoyed a good life on recordings. Manfred Cordes and Weser Renaissance have recorded the complete collection for CPO (999959) and it’s quite good. Apparently Philippe Herreweghe has done the same for Harmonia Mundi, but since I never heard the recording I can’t speak of the performance. What we have on the Sagittarius disc is excellent. Fontana d’Israel showcases Schein’s assimilation of the Italian style and his gift for wedding it to German traditions. Set to Old Testament texts, Schein’s five voice gems are highly expressive and very well crafted. There are some daring things happening throughout. “Wende dich, Herr, und sei mir gnädig”opens with some pained chromaticism depicting sorrow before shifting gears and bursting out in full-voiced joy. “Ist nicht Ephraim mein teurer Sohn” has a terrific echo effect while “Zion spricht; der Herr hat mich verlassen” makes a great case for Schein’s gift for text-setting.
Sagittarius has a pretty extensive discography and I wish I was able to round up some of their other recordings, but this Schein disc is a great way to become acquainted with a first-rate ensemble and I strongly recommend it.
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