Central to the research into and the performance of early music since the beginnings of the renewed interest into music from previous centuries the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis (SCB) remains an extraordinary powerhouse of talent ranging over music from the early Middle Ages through to the 19th century. Today its pupils are legion, as too are its teachers, amply fulfilling the aspirations of Paul Sacher when he founded the institution in Switzerland in 1933. In an agreement recently made between Glossa and the SCB fresh new life is being breathed into the desire to bring the fruits of all this musical activity to a much wider worldwide audience through recordings. To launch the new agreement two newly-made recordings are being released, along with the welcome reissue (the first of many such) of Dominique Vellard’s 1997 survey of Music and Poetry in Saint Gall, sequences and tropes dating back to the 9th century and sung by the Ensemble Gilles Binchois. Mezzo-soprano Rosa Domínguez, who teaches singing at the SCB, is joined by Mûnica Pustilnik and Dolores Costoyas for “ new music” from the beginning of the 17th century in Odi Euterpe, whilst the irrepressible enthusiasm of Anthony Rooley brings a forgotten name from the middle of 18th century England – William Hayes – into the 21st, with a performance of the ‘dramatic oratorio’ The Passions. Rooley’s discovery of this work, his directing of La Cetra Barockorchester Basel (an ensemble set to appear on further recordings on Glossa) and the talented group of singers – led by another SCB teacher, Evelyn Tubb – are all testament to the continuing vibrancy of the Schola; one which Glossa feels very privileged to be working with. This exceptional new – and itself continuing – series is matched by fresh new designs by Valentín Iglesias. We talked to Thomas Drescher, the Assistant Principal at the SCB and responsible for its CD-productions for his views on the relevance of recordings to today’s SCB.
For the SCB what purposes do recordings linked to the institution serve today?
The SCB started the production of recordings thirty years ago, mainly for two reasons which in principle have not changed even today: the Schola had and has a cornucopia of excellent musicians on its staff and among its students. Their potential should be used for a program that shows the ability and the quality of members of the Schola. It was and is a good outreach instrument which brings our institution, its music, its members, and research achievements to the attention of a broader public. On the other hand, the CD productions have always motivated teachers to channel their work and offered gifted students and alumni the chance of a professional experience in the recording situation.
How do you feel that the initial new releases (Hayes’ The Passions and Odi Euterpe) reflect the SCB’s musical values as a music academy and research centre?
William Hayes’ The Passions is a classic SCB-production because it combines large mixed forces of the Schola to record an unknown piece of major importance from the late English Baroque which has been rediscovered (and then directed) by one of the professors at our School: Anthony Rooley. Nearly all the members of the orchestra (La Cetra is a spin-off group of the SCB) and all the singers were, or are, teachers and students of the SCB. Even the edition was made by a former SCB student. So this production shows all the practical facets of the School and is, in addition, a fine example of its research capacities. But discovering unknown repertoires is only one and by no means the most important part of the SCB’s research activities!
Odi Euterpe offers, contrastingly, a very small cast of three Argentine ladies who received their training at the SCB as well. Rosa Domínguez is now a teacher in the singing faculty. The program consists of better and lesser known pieces from the Italian early Baroque but Rosa is trying to give them a new quality by balancing music and text in the way claimed by Giulio Caccini and others. In addition, the basso continuo – mostly comprising two plucked instruments – offers a very refined rhythmic and harmonic (and sometimes improvised melodic) basis for the singer. It is just the opposite of today’s often heard ‘pop’-versions of early 17th century pieces in big ensembles. Back to the roots with skilled musicians and more ‘know how’ – this is her approach. And the results are anything but ‘academic’. So this production is an attempt to find musical freedom which comes more from the sources than from external aesthetic decisions. In this way, it is a good example of the SCB’s approach concerning the ‘interpretation ’ of Early Music.
Was there any particular reason why the SCB decided to confide its new recordings to Glossa (and titles from the back catalogue as well)?
Glossa was always a label which we felt familiar and comfortable with, not only because we had some contacts with its Artistic Director Carlos Céster in the early times of Glossa but also because some of our well-known professors such as Paolo Pandolfo and Dominique Vellard have been recording for Glossa for quite some while. The philosophy of the label, its seriousness in matters of Early Music, and the superior quality of its programming and products made it easy to find common foundations. And yes, we are happy to have the opportunity of re-editing about 20 CDs from the last 15 years. Glossa is a partner of choice and we are very glad to be able to start our co-operation now.
Mark Wiggins © 2010 MusiContact / Glossa Music Photographs by A.T. Schaefer (1, 3) and Susanne Drescher (2)