Heinrich Schütz's final set of Symphoniae Sacrae was composed in 1650, as Germany was emerging from the chaos of the Thirty Years' War. With the exception of the magnificent Saul, Saul, was verfolgst du mich?, SWV 415, these pieces for five to eight vocal parts with instrumental ensemble are less well known than the composer's earlier sacred masterpieces, which merged the magnificence of the Venetian polychoral style with the direct, devotional impulses of German Protestant music; Schütz's music does not sound much like Bach's, but he nevertheless looms in works like these as perhaps Bach's most important ancestor.
This performance by the Cantus Cölln and Concerto Palatino brass ensemble, directed by German early Baroque specialist Konrad Junghänel, goes maximal in one way and minimal in another. One reason performers have steered away from these pieces is that, in addition to all the other interpretive challenges Schütz poses, they exist in two different versions, with a set of optional added parts. This recording uses those parts, which adds considerable contrapunal complexity to the music and makes it busier and denser. On the other hand, the Cantus Cölln, as usual, sings with one voice to a part. Those used to hearing choral Schütz may be unhappy, but the case here is stronger than it is for Bach -- small, flexible performing forces were the norm in the wake of the Thirty Years' War, and the "full" version of this music is clarified by the madrigal-like grouping. In any event, the performers aim not toward the grandeur often associated with Schütz but toward clear, nimble delineation of the ways in which he turns the new concerted (contrasting-groups) style to dramatic ends. And they succeed in their aims: their style has a lightness and transparency that is likely to hook even the listener who has been put off at first. They make a good case for the Symphoniae Sacrae III, and even listeners who like a more imposing Schütz may enjoy hearing him sung like this for a change.