These Italian madrigals -- mostly for five voices, with one, Vasto mar, nel cui seno, SWV 19, for eight -- are early works by Heinrich Schütz, representing the culmination of his years of study with Giovanni Gabrieli in Venice. They are in every respect bold, youthful works, drawing on Gabrieli's rather traditional teaching, the chromatic madrigal style of the late sixteenth century and the new world of Monteverdian text setting in equal measure, although they are entirely polyphonic and have no continuo (or, as generally performed, no instrumental accompaniment at all). There's an exotic quality to the harmonies that shows Schütz trying to make his mark on the musical world, and outside of the expansive Gabrielian use of space they don't sound much like Schütz's later music. Sample track 6, D'orrida selce alpina (Gruesome crags of the Alps gave birth to thee, lady -- note that the booklet translates the Italian texts only into German, not English), for a taste of the young Schütz's ability to match the madrigalian musical language to a typically strange and sexy Italian text of the time ("in the breast of a wild animal you have a heart of stone"). The work, and several others on the album, have what would at the time have been called a fantastic quality. Unfortunately, the understandably scholastic performances of the Kammerchor der Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt Weimar fail to capture this quality. This 36-voice choir is not ideally suited to madrigal singing. Certainly choral performances of madrigals, both Italian and English, have a long history, and they could work especially well for Schütz, whose musical thinking was fundamentally shaped by the point where a choir met a musical space. But the choir, whose intonation never sparkles, only intermittently brings to the music the flair that the Italian madrigal requires -- its expression is often monochrome from one piece to the next. The attractive booklet, with its red-stained quill on the cover and detailed account of Schütz's early career inside, promises more than the performers can deliver.
AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Il primo libro de madrigali, for 4-5 voices, SWV 1-19 (Op. 1)|