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A heartfelt tribute to an enlightened ruler and respected friend, by one of the greatest composers of the baroque or indeed of any era - it's little wonder that Heinrich Schütz's Musikalische Exequien stands today as one of the great masterpieces of music for the dead. This work arose from an exceptional combination of circumstances. It was written for the funeral of Prinz Heinrich Posthumus von Reuss, the cultured and humane ruler of the German principality of Gera, whose relationship with the composer was one of mutual respect and friendship. The prince, whose second name was given as a result of his father having died between the prince's conception and birth, had carefully chosen the Lutheran Biblical texts he wished to have sung after his death. Upon the prince's death, his widow asked his composer friend to set these texts to music for the funeral; and all of this, combined with Schütz's stature as a musician of undeniable genius, resulted in a work that was not only a personal and moving tribute to a friend, but a truly beautiful and universal work of sadness and comfort in death. What is more, the listeners of 1635 would surely have found added poignancy in those parts of the text that expressed the trials and tribulations of the human condition, reflecting the devastating misery of the Thirty Years' War which was engulfing Central European society at every level.

As befits a work of such quality, the Musikalische Exequien has always been extremely well served on CD; but this present recording, from the Belgian-based group Vox Luminis directed by Lionel Meunier, is surely one of the best. Their approach is very simple - with pure, clear voices, singing two to a part in the tutti passages or solo as appropriate, and with instrumental participation reduced to bare essentials in the form of bass viol and positive organ, they let the music speak for itself. Their voices are all of the very finest, there is not a weak link anywhere, and their performance is imbued with dignity, sincerity and sheer expressive power. The group's beautiful sound is finely captured in an ideal church acoustic, with the remoteness of the second choir in the closing movement, 'Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener', caught to perfection. The four additional motets on the disc, as well as the Samuel Scheidt organ chorale, are equally lovely.

In view of the many fine recordings of the Exequien available, it would take a brave man or woman to single out a clear best choice - even if you knew them all, which I don't. There are at least a dozen highly-regarded versions available, including those under Gardiner, Herreweghe, Mauersberger, Haller, Cordes, Rademann and Lasserre. With great difficulty, then, I can only say that my own preference among the ones I know would probably vacillate endlessly between three of the versions on a more intimate scale. These are, but not in any particular order: the beautiful, stylish and heartfelt performance by La Chapelle Rhénane directed by Benoît Haller, sung by a similarly small complement of fine voices, but with a richer accompaniment of instruments and all sounding quite superb; that's on the K617 label, coupled with an equally fine version of Schütz's Resurrection Story and listed by Amazon under that title Schütz - Histoire de la Résurrection. Secondly, a truly lovely version from Weser-Renaissance Bremen directed by Manfred Cordes; the voices are wonderful, the small group of instruments just right; Cordes moves the music along at a slightly smarter pace compared to the others, which works superbly, and there's an engaging feeling of naturalness about the whole thing which, once heard, I certainly wouldn't want to be without: Schutz: Musikalische Exequien (Musikalische Exequien/ Bußpsalmen/ Psalm 6,51,102,130&143). And, of course, there's this present disc from Vox Luminis, for all the reasons already given. Having said all that, I know there are many who would swear by the recording from John Eliot Gardiner and the Monteverdi Choir Schütz: Motets and Concertos; in fact I've been lucky enough to hear them perform the work live, and they too were wonderful.

If all this sounds non-committal, I'm afraid it has to be. If any other customers would care to comment with your own ideas, you'd be most welcome. Finally, though, just in case it still needs to be said, this work is one of the most affecting masterpieces in western music and, if you can hear at least one recording or performance of it, I believe you'll feel glad to be alive.
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This wonderful recording won the Recording of the Year at the Gramophone Classical Music Awards 2012. I've long admired Heinrich Schutz' music and I was delighted to be able to get this wonderful work on Schutz' reflections on death. Composed at the request of the widow of the prince Heinrich Posthumus von Reuss who died in 1635, von Reuss was a humanist who had protected his regions from conflict during the Thirty Years War and earned the respect of all who knew him. He had planned his own funeral ceremonies in much detail, and indeed the cd cover of this recording shows a detail of von Reuss' own coffin, made of solid copper and decorated with liturgical texts selected by him for the purpose.

I don't pretend to be able to offer a more musical analysis of the recording or the work itself than the earlier review by Mr Stephen Midgley, who has done a fine job of covering the bases. For my own part, I like to be able to hear works of a historical nature that are placed in their context - authentic and empathetic interpretations of early, renaissance and baroque music. Given that Schutz was only around 50 years of age at the time that he wrote this music, it seems to have a sadness beyond his years; however, any portrait of Schutz that I've ever seen seems to show a very sad man, bowed down with sorrow.

This work makes fine use of the organ and keyboard, which to me sounds reminiscent of Gabrieli, who influenced Schutz' composition. But it has Schutz' own Netherlandish twist surrounding the music. Many of the texts are from the Lutheran Mass, or from religious texts selected by von Reuss himself. There are solo soarings, and choral intonations that flow unresolved while the keyboards play in the background. The music is sad, yet triumphant, and this really is a masterpiece of Schutz. I'm really glad that I purchased this cd; it will remain a treasured part of my collection.
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on 29 December 2013
I'm still trying to make up my mind between this recording, bought on the basis of reviews, and the Naxos one, also bought on the basis of reviews. I used to have an enjoyable LP of this work, many moons ago, and thought I should update. I found the Naxos very good indeed and very enjoyable. Vox Luminis give a much more serene performance, technically impeccable, but I'm not yet sure I prefer it to the Naxos. I tend not to think of the works of the great Venetians (and their pupil Schutz) in terms of serenity. So I need to listen more before discarding or recommending one of these two recordings...
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Not for the first time, I come to review a disc and find that Stephen Midgley has provided an extremely thorough review of both music and performance with which I agree. I won't repeat it all but will add this personal note.

I have never found Schütz an easy composer to love. I admire him, certainly, but even recordings by great musicians like The Purcell Quartet and Emma Kirkby haven't really moved me. This disc did. I think the performance has a lambent beauty and genuine spiritual depth which really speaks to me and I can see why it won the prestigious Gramophone Recording Of The Year award.

I suggest that you read Mr Midgley's review, listen to a few samples and then add this to your collection. It's a beautifully presented disc of superb music which is excellently performed and recorded, and I recommend it very warmly.
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on 18 December 2012
Playing time rather brief, but this is reflected in the price.
I have played this Cd quite a lot.
Thoroughly recommended.
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