In the Renaissance and Early Modern periods most composers were
musicians first and only secondarily composers. They earned their
living from royal, ecclesiastical or civic patronage. Specialist
label, CPO's, enterprising "Musica Sacra Hamburgensis 1600-1800"
series aims to highlight the contribution made to music by composers
who benefited from their employment in Hamburg - specifically
at one or more of the city's churches. The list of these composers
includes Reincken, Mattheson, Telemann and C.P.E. Bach.
Hieronymus Praetorius served
from the 1580s in various such roles until his death in 1629.
By then he was chief organist at Hamburg's St. Jacobkirche.
Other members of Hieronymus Praetorius' family held corresponding
posts in the city, taught Hieronymus and forged a style and
approach which he retained and continued. Although they were
not related to their perhaps more famous namesake, Michael Praetorius.
The traditions in which Hieronymus
Praetorius worked were heavily influenced by the developing
styles of North Italian (and particularly Venetian) music. After
all Schütz had visited Venice twice and absorbed the ideas of
the Gabrielis, amongst other such innovators. The music written
and heard in the (north) German states at that time was equally
extrovert, it too used divided choirs, otherwise extended polychoral
novelties, and experimented with contrapuntal ideas. Perhaps
it also seems to our ears to emphasise the grandness of the
music as much as its sacred import.
This CD contains a dozen or
so sacred pieces ranging in length from two and a half to eleven
and a quarter minutes from the very centre of that tradition.
At times (the Nunc dimittis, [tr.5], for example) the
atmosphere is utterly Venetian. Hence the CD's title… the spirit
of San Marco transferred to Germany. Somehow, though, the music
never achieves the brilliance, brightness or shine of a Canzon
by one of the Gabrielis. Probably it's not meant to: Protestant,
not Catholic. Not that it's in any way unpolished or deficient.
Just more self-consciously ruminative… the O bone Jesu
[tr.6], for instance, takes few simple musical ideas and appears
to expand them logically as the composer ponders the Christ.
So it was necessary for the
quietly distinguished Weser Renaissance of Bremen to approach
the music in its own right and not as Gabrieli manqué. Their
sensitivity and eagerness to give breadth and space to the music
mean this balance is achieved admirably.
In places they confer a greater
intimacy on the singing and playing than the Basilica
ever allows… even the Magnificat [tr.7] is as thoughtful
and subdued as it is resplendent. The music - and its performance
here - is devotional, not spectacular. It's certainly more inward
looking, though Weser Renaissance never lingers, indulges, stumbles.
Indeed the entire
CD, whilst not being constructed to any internal or explicit sequence
or progression, has a pleasant and discernible sense of movement.
The instrumental playing is authoritative and contained. The singing
full and calm. As a sampler of how music in provincial North German
cities of the period sounded and what must have been the experience
of those attended its performance. Justifiable claims to greatness
were being made for the music - despite its northerly location.
And this CD makes the case for such claims very well indeed. As
an exposition of the work of a distinctly minor yet worthy composer
a thoughtful one. As over an hour of uplifting and stimulating
sacred music a delight.