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Peter Loewen
American Record Guide, November 2010

This is beautiful music and brilliantly performed.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

John Sheppard
MusicWeb International, December 2009

Schütz’s Christmas Story is one of the composer’s late works, but one those closest to perfection. It comprises a narration of the biblical nativity story by a tenor in a variety of forms of recitative, interspersed with brief interludes depicting scenes including the appearance of angels, the shepherds, the three Magi and King Herod, the whole framed by longer choruses. The variety of textures and character show the sure hand of the master that the elderly composer had become. It is the musical equivalent of an Advent calendar or series of stained glass windows, and is enchanting from start to finish. In under 35 minutes the composer depicts vividly all the main parts of the Christmas story, the final recitative ending with a marvellous passage anticipating Christ’s adulthood followed by a joyous final chorus. As a whole the work is succinct, effective and utterly original in its use of all the styles of both sacred and secular music then current. I first heard it some fifty years ago and have regarded it ever since as probably the greatest and most inspired piece of Christmas music ever written. Curiously, though, it is by no means as frequently performed as its merits and lack of obvious performance problems might suggest.

Listening to the present performance you may well doubt whether any such problems exist. They do, and start with musicological debate over how to deal with the fragmentary state of the surviving material. Curiously the extensive and helpful, if very tiny, notes explain the editorial problems but do not name whose edition is used. Whoever it is, the result is idiomatic and convincing as is the performance. Much of the burden falls on the tenor evangelist. Adam Riis has a fresh and free tone and convincingly conveys the changing course of the narrative. I might have preferred a more extrovert approach, reacting more obviously to the text, but better what we have here than an anachronism more suited to the next centuries. The various singers and instrumentalists in the Interludes are uniformly excellent and the overall result is delightful in every way.

The Resurrection Story is an earlier and, given the subject, an unsurprisingly somewhat more austere work. The evangelist’s part, accompanied by the viols, is more restrained in character although this puts into greater relief the passages where other singers have the words of particular characters in the story. These are usually represented by more than one voice. The words of Jesus for instance are sung by an alto and a tenor, but their manner is that used elsewhere by the composer in his vocal concertos. The overall effect is not as overtly dramatic as the Christmas Story but is certainly compelling and moving.

The evangelist in this work is Johan Linderoth whose subtle freedom and perfect articulation of the text are close to the ideal. The other performers maintain a similar standard. Overall this is a disc which gives immense satisfaction and which is a great credit both to Paul Hillier as director of both works and to the Danish Arts Council for its support of the project.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, November 2009

Denmark stakes at least a partial claim to the German-born composer, Heinrich Schütz, his invitations from Copenhagen including two periods in the service of the Danish court. The present disc links two of his major works in the style known at the time as historia, the content being of biblical origin. The earlier score, Auferstehungshistorie, dates from 1623 when the composer was thirty-eight and enjoying much success as the Kapellmaister in the musically influential Dresden. Intended for Holy Week it is the story of the Resurrection, largely told by the Evangelist, though later taken over by Mary Magdalene and Jesus who tell of the outcome of the unfolding events. In 1660, by which time Schütz was in semi-retirement, he composed the Christmas story, Weihnachtshistorie, and in so doing probably provide the inspiration for Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Both works on the disc include parts for instrumental accompaniment, the later score more adventurous in this respect with a suitably vigorous opening, the story being told by three solo voices. The timber of voice used for the Evangelists is a very personal choice, the sound here more akin to the Germanic style than to the open quality now in favour elsewhere. I much like the soprano, Else Torp, who brings glad tidings in the role of the Angel, while Paul Hillier finds fine soloists for the lesser roles from the ranks of his Ars Nova. The instruments of the Concerto Copenhagen and Sirius Viols are of outstanding quality, while the recording team has balanced to perfection the diverse elements. Essential for all who love Early Music.

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