GERMANY BEFORE BACH!
The emergence of German music in its own right may conveniently be pinpointed by three events, each a century apart - the births of Martin Luther (1483), Heinrich Schutz (1585) and J.S. Bach (1685). Luther's writings show that he had a great love for music and an understanding of its value in worship, and the growing treasury of chorale hymns and tunes inspired by Luther and his followers formed a basis for composition in every art form except that of opera, from organ chorale preludes and variations to works such as Bach's St.Matthew Passion.
To the second event, the birth of Schutz, the so-called 'father of German music', must be linked the births of his contemporaries, Johann H.Schein(1586) and SAMUEL SCHEIDT (1587), with each of whom he had a personal friendship. THE WORKS OF THESE THREE EXHIBIT THE MAINSTREAM TRANSMIGRATION OF MODERN ITALIAN (CHIEFLY VENETIAN) IDEAS TO GERMANY, this stream merging with FLEMISH, ENGLISH, AND FRENCH INFLUENCES (though to a lesser extent), until all were absorbed and adapted into GERMAN MUSIC.
Samuel Scheidt(1587-1654) was a Lutheran composer whose only real jaunt outside of Halle(his native town) was to Amsterdam where he studied organ with Sweelinck. Scheidt's work embodies the discoveries and summations of the late Renaissance, absorbing not only the provincial style of his country, but also the sifting bits of Italian idiosyncrasies.
The Choral works of this disc, taken from Scheidt's 'Sacrae Cantione' in eight parts and published in Hamburg in 1620, make use of double choir technique in some of the selections. This makes the music sound as if its origins were in both madrigals and contrupuntal effects, which tends to cause the listener to feel that Scheidt has one foot in the Renaissance and the other in the Baroque! However, be that as it may, each selection is beautifully crafted and displays a sense of real liturgical adventure while being aware of the link to tradition. The melodies are delightful and substantial while the choral harmonies, supported by unobtrusive continuo, show a definite ability to project not only emotion and meaning, but superbly sculptured sonorities as well.
An attractive variety of techniques are represented in these works, from the eloquent 'Alleluia' refrain of the short opener 'Surrexit Christus Hodie', to the monumental beauty of the 20 minute versified elaboration of the Lord's Prayer 'Vater unser im Himmelreich' during which Scheidt creatively spreads the cantus firmus around varied prsentations of the double choir. The 'Jauchzet Gott, alle Land' and the brief Christmas carol 'Puer Natus in Bethlehem' both illustrate a flexible splendor.
The ensemble VOX LUMINIS is made up of ten singers (SS Mezzo CTCT TTT BB), organ, basse de viole and bassoon. Each is a master in his or her idiom, projecting a unified concept and a consistently pleasing timbre. The voices are resonant with refined tone qualities and precise diction. They are expressive and indeed outstanding in solo passages while maintaining an excellent sense of ensemble throughout.
GRAMOPHONE MAGAZINE - January, 2011 : "'Vox Luminis' is already an ensemble of the finest calibre; their intonation, tuning and declamatory sensitivity for words are deeply impressive, and the consort singing always shows a keen affinity for emotive harmonic twists."