SCHUTZ: The Christmas Story; Six Choral pieces – Yale Schola Cantorum/ David Hill – Hyperion CDA68315, 71:13 [Distr. by PIAS] ****:
If Handel is considered a German composing Italian music in England, then certainly Heinrich Schutz is a German composing Italian music in Germany, specifically Dresden, where he spent most of his career. More than that, he, like Handel and Bach, was a staunch Protestant who was absolutely in love with what he called the “true university of music”, Catholic Italy. Though his parents, who were well off, were also dead set against his becoming a musician, Schutz, who believed that God “no doubt singled me out in the womb for the profession of music” found his escape in 1614 to write music for a royal christening in Dresden. That did it; the things he learned in 1609 when a patron sent him to Venice to study with Giovanni Gabrieli were then put to good use, and there was no looking back.
The six choral pieces here are all good examples of the type of expressive text setting that so typifies this composer. Whether the wonderful Magnificat composed about the same time as the Christmas Story, or the Word was made flesh, his use of voices and instruments almost rivals his Venetian mentor.
The Christmas Story, a pseudo-dramatic retelling of the nativity narrative, was initially intended to be part of the vespers service of Christmas day. He employs no fewer than twelve voices, a large contingent of strings, and many wind instruments, all of which add to the color of the work. In addition, his recitatives are of the Italian operatic style that adds to the drama. My favorite recording to this point has been the 30-year-old Andrew Parrott on EMI with Emma Kirkby and Nigel Rogers. I must admit that the solo singing is more stylish on that release than here, where the solos are taken by members of the Yale Schola, though they are very good. But the spirit, enthusiasm, and sound are far superior in this new release, showing that David Hill has brought much of the traditional English artistry to New Haven to excellent effect. This is a wonderful release.