Archive for CPO

Johann Hermann Schein

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on June 23, 2010 by Craig Zeichner

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, (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).

The newest from Sagittarius

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.

Visit Sagittarius at their

Hesperion Dos Equis Reissues

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , on August 26, 2009 by Craig Zeichner
The Sean Connery of Early Music

The Sean Connery of Early Music


Few early music artists have as deep a discography as gambist Jordi Savall and his ensemble. Years ago the group was Hesperion XX, these days it’s Hesperion XXI. Who knows, in a few years it might be Hesperion XXI.1. Jordi and company just keep knocking out recordings. He made a huge number for the Astrée  label and then launched his own Alia Vox label.  One of the ensemble’s older efforts has turned  up on the Ars Musici label.


Bohemian-born Andreas Hammerschmidt’s duties as kantor at the Johnanniskirche in Zittau—he was responsible for all the liturgical music— made him a prolific composer by necessity. Hammerschmidt (1611-1675) is probably best remembered for his sacred works which were inspired by the great Heinrich Schütz. Schütz even thought so highly of Hammerschmidt that he penned a laudatory poem for the preface of an edition of Hammerschmidt’s music. This recording (made in 1986) features Hesperion XX under Jordi Savall’s direction and presents another side of Hammerschmidt with a set of instrumental suites.


The suites on this recording were popular in their day and show a preference for the French forms that were the rage in the 17th century. Two of the suites are scored for viol consort, one for viols and winds and one for winds. This is refined music with fetching melodies and a stately grace. Savall and his consort of viols play beautifully with a marvelously rich, warm tone. The suites for winds feature the cornettist Bruce Dickey and other wind players who would join him in the ensemble Concerto Palatino. The contributions by Dickey and the wind players make for some of the most stirring music on the disc. This is a polite, well-performed recording of some pleasant but not revelatory music. Hammerschmidt’s music is solid but lacks the sweetness of the French music of the period and the pure invention that is animates the instrumental music of his Italian and German peers.  If you are interested in hearing more from Hammerschmidt I would suggest going for the sacred music and the terrific collection of motets performed by Weser Renaissance led by Manfred Cordes on the CPO label.

Buy this

Buy this

I love Savall and his ensemble. His wife, the soprano Montserrat Figueras, is a marvelous singer and one of early music’s greats. That being said, I do find Hesperion performances to occasionally be a bit glossy, just too perfect. At times they remind me of the many sleek recordings Herbert von  Karajan made in the 1980s that were beautiful museum pieces but lacking heart. There is also a bit of superstardom ego at work too. I remember a DVD performance of Monteverdi’s L’Orfeo conducted by Savall that featured as many close-ups of the great man as there were of the singers on the stage. There was also a Boston Early Music Festival appearance some years ago where  the ensemble hit the stage wearing facial expressions  that suggested somebody kicked their dog. Apparently Ms. Figueras was unhappy with the air conditioning of the hall.
It looks like Alia Vox is undertaking a major digital push. A heap of Astrée digital only reissues are appearing on the Alia Vox label and are available on eMusic. There are some beautiful things here and if you can sort through eMusic’s execrable butchering of metadata you will find some treasures:  Jordicopia at eMusic
Here’s some gorgeous Dowland from Jordi.