Heinrich Schütz: Die Sieben Worte; Johannes-Passion

Heinrich Schütz: Johannes-Passion; Die Sieben Worte
George Pratt, BBC Music Magazine
Lørdag, 1. maj

Performance *****

Sound *****

This deeply moving performance lives up to the promise of the two previous discs in the series covering Schütz' Historia, narratives on the Birth, Passion and Resurrection of Christ. Schütz' music is profoundly simple. The Seven Words of Christ on the Cross open and close with a reflective choral ensemble (one-to-a-crystal-pure-part) and an instrumental sinfonia, here given to violas da gamba and sackbutts, a rich, warm colour compared with the more conventional strings of most other recordings. The Evangelist's role is shared between voices, sometimes four at once, as if several different witnesses were describing Christ's utterances from the cross, while His words have a halo of two gambas and continuo, anticipating Bach in his Passions by over 60 years.

Hillier paces the narrative subtly, from down-to-earth description to slow contemplation, with the melodic outline, harmony and word repetitions interpreting and illuminating the German text. Christ's fragmented 'It is finished', gasping in His final agony, is awe-inspiring. The singers,  admirably matched and beautifully unaffected, are helped by the church acoustic warming the tone without obscuring detail. 

The St. John Passion's unaccompanied monody from the Evangelist, relieved only by a choral crowd, is more accessible to a German congregation on Good Friday than to English listeners out of that context. Yet the simplicity of the bare, unadorned line is hauntingly beautiful and enhanced by excellent recording.