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Heinrich Schütz, Opus ultimum (Schwanengesang), Collegium Vocale Gent, Concerto Palatino, Philippe Herreweghe (released June 12, 2007)
Schütz, Opus ultimum, Hilliard Ensemble et al. (1985)
The Hilliard Ensemble's recording, from the 1980s, is the only competition, and it combines voices and instruments, too. As Peter Wollny explains in his informative liner notes, the elderly Schütz offered the Opus ultimum to his Dresden employer in 1671, at the end of a distinguished career, by which point his music had become outdated. Never published, the work survived only by haphazard, rediscovered at the turn of the 20th century in a forgotten manuscript in a small Polish church's archive. In 1930, a continuo part for the motets turned up, which allowed the reconstruction of the two missing partbooks. Looking backward stylistically, Schütz returns to the Venetian polychoral style, composing for two balanced four-part choirs. He did recommend in his instructions that a complement of instruments could perform with the singers. In this recording, there are three singers on each part (two choirs of twelve singers each), whom Herreweghe occasionally reduces to one on a part to provide textural variety. Here it is mostly the continuo instruments that play along (organ, lute, and viol), with occasional doubling contributions by one cornetto and three trombones from the superb Concerto Palatino.
Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672)
All throughout his life, Schütz was pioneering ways to adapt the innovations of Italian Catholic church music to a Protestant setting. The "appendix" of the Opus ultimum adds a setting of Psalm 99 (Jubilate Domino omnis terra), apparently performed as early as 1665, and the German text of the Magnificat. This magnificent recording is now the gold standard performance of his last work of genius.
Harmonia Mundi HMC 901895.96