Michael PRAETORIUS (1571 - 1621)
Abigail Clark, Madeline Apple Healy, Peter Simon (treble), Jolle Greenleaf, Nell Snaidas, Sandra Simon (soprano), Kirsten Sollek (mezzo), Ryan Turner, Scott Mello (tenor), Paul Shipper (bass)
The Oberlin Choristers, The Children's Choirs of St Paul's Church, Apollo's Musettes, Apollo's Singers, Apollo's Fire/Jeannette Sorrell
rec. 9-13 December 2005, St Paul's Episcopal Church, Cleveland Heights, OH, USA. DDD AVIE AV2306 [74:40]
In 1994 Archiv released a disc including a 'Christmas
Mass' with music by Michael Praetorius and some of his contemporaries.
It was meant as a kind of reconstruction of a Lutheran service as it
might have been celebrated on a Christmas morning in a larger town in
Central Germany around 1620. Jeanette Sorrell refers to this as she
writes that "[unlike] some early music conductors before me, I
am not striving to recreate a complete and authentic 17th century Vespers
service, exactly as it would have been done in Wolfenbüttel on Christmas
Day 1618". Wolfenbüttel is where Praetorius worked from 1592/93
until the end of his life, a fact she surprisingly fails to mention
in her liner-notes. "Rather, my primary goal was to create a vivid
and compelling concert experience. With that in mind, I set out to shape
a program that presents highlights from typical 17th-century
Lutheran Advent and Christmas Vespers services".
Michael Praetorius was one of many composers who wrote music under the
influence of the liturgical ideas of Martin Luther. The Reformation
of the church had far-reaching effects on the liturgy. One of the main
elements of Luther's liturgical ideals was the participation
of the congregation. To that end poets had to write texts in the vernacular
which were either set to pre-existing melodies - some of which were
part of the Catholic liturgy - or to new music. He himself set examples:
the text of Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, for instance, is his
adaptation of the medieval hymn Veni redemptor gentium; the
melody is also based on an old liturgical chant. Composers wrote melodies
but also harmonizations - Johann Walter is one of the best-known examples
- or arrangements of various kinds, for organ or for vocal ensemble.
The latter kind is well represented in the many collections of sacred
music which Praetorius published between 1605 and 1621, the year of
his death. For every part of the ecclesiastical year the appropriate
repertoire can be found.
Praetorius' collections also reflect the various levels of performance
in his time. Some include rather simple harmonizations of chorales,
others comprise large-scale sacred concertos for two or more choirs.
The Lutheran hymns play a major role in his oeuvre. Nun komm der
Heiden Heiland, In dulci jubilo, Es ist ein Ros entsprungen and
Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern are among the best-known
hymns for Christmastide. Ms Sorrell also included Wachet auf, ruft
uns die Stimme and calls it "[perhaps] the most famous Lutheran
Advent hymn". However, this hymn was not written for Advent. Johann
Sebastian Bach, for instance, used it only once, in his cantata 140
for the 26th Sunday after Trinity. That makes it one of the less convincing
elements of this recording. Wir glauben all an einen Gott is
the German versification of the Credo from the Mass; here we hear Praetorius'
harmonization from one of the nine volumes which he published from 1605
to 1612 under the title of Musae Sioniae.
This disc also offers two other elements from Praetorius's oeuvre.
The Magnificat is one of the large-scale compositions on original
music in Polyhymnia caduceatrix et panegyrica, collection of
sacred music for one to 21 voices which appeared in 1619. The same collection
includes Ach, mein Herre, a sacred concerto in the modern monodic
style as it had been developed in Italy. It is for three sopranos, viole
da gamba and basso continuo; Praetorius also makes use of the echo technique
which was such a popular device in Italian sacred and secular music
as well as in organ music of the north German organ school, the latter
under the influence of Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck.
It is remarkable that several pieces in the programme were also included
by McCreesh in his reconstruction. That is the case with Quem pastores
laudavere, a piece from a collection of music for children's
voices, Puer natus in Bethlehem and the setting of In dulci
jubilo which concludes this disc. The latter is definitely one
of the most exciting pieces for Christmastide from Praetorius'
Some issues need to be mentioned. Firstly, several items are sung in
English, either entirely (Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern
- O Morning Star) or partly: Nun komm der Heiden Heiland which
opens the programm begins with the first stanza being sung in German,
which is then repeated in English and followed by the next stanzas also
in English. That is understandable in the light of Ms Sorrell's
concept. "Praetorius set these hymns in the common tongue of his
congregation - German - and thus we perform them in the common tongue
of our home audience". As a result this disc is less interesting
for a non-English audience. Moreover, there is a close connection between
the hymn melodies and the German language which makes them less suitable
for a translation while keeping the original music.
The second issue is the fact that one of the 'carols'
(O Morning Star) is sung between the two sections of the Magnificat.
Jeannette Sorrell states that this was common practice in 17th-century
German, but I am not sure about this. We know this practice from later
on, at least in Bach's time. I am curious to know when it came
into existence. The inclusion of dances from Terpsichore is
also a little odd. There were certainly not meant for performances in
a sacred setting.
All things being said and done this is a fine disc which I have enjoyed
a lot. Yes, there are some aspects which I am less than happy about,
in particular the use of English. However, I have great admiration for
the way the music is performed here, especially considering that none
of the singers are German speakers. The pronunciation is not perfect;
I heard some strange vowels here and there. The main thing is that the
performers under Jeannette Sorrell's direction have grabbed the
spirit of this music quite well. Ach, mein Herre was new to
me, and it is given here a very good performance.
McCreesh's recording is still unsurpassed as it is probably the
best disc with music by Praetorius ever made. However, Jeannette Sorrell
has succeeded in creating "a vivid and compelling concert experience"
and that makes this disc a nice addition to the catalogue of Christmas
Track list Christmas Vespers
[Awaiting the Messiah: A Lutheran Advent Service] Martin LUTHER (1483-1546), arr Jeannette Sorrell Nun komm der Heiden Heiland [3:15] Michael PRAETORIUS Nun komm der Heiden Heiland [5:09] Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme [2:47] Puer natus in Bethlehem [4:49] Ach, mein Herre [7:42] Wir glauben all an einen Gott [5:35] Bransle de Poitou - Gaillarde - Bransle gay - Bransle simple - Bransle
double [4:26] Glory sei Gott in der Höhe [6:57]
[A Vespers Service for Christmas Day] Quem pastores laudavere [3:13] Martin LUTHER Christum wir sollen loben schon [0:49] Michael PRAETORIUS Magnificat (pt I & II) [5:57] [O Morning Star] [2:57] Magnificat (pt III & IV) [7:32] [Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming] [1:40] Vater unser im Himmelreich [1:02] Benedicamus aeterno Regi [0:49] Nun lob mein Seel den Herren (organ) In dulci jubilo [7:14]