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A Wondrous Mystery – Renaissance Choral Music for Christmas
Michael PRAETORIUS (c.1571-1621)
Ein Kind geborn in Bethlehem [3:27]
Michael PRAETORIUS (c.1571-1621) – Melchior VULPIUS (c.1570-1615)
Es ist ein Ros entrprungen [2:58]
Jacob HANDL (1550-1591)
Canite tuba [2:11]
Mirabile mysterium [4:07]
Jacobus CLEMENS NON PAPA (c.1510-c.1555)
Motet: Pastores quidnam vidistis [5:02]
Missa: Pastores quidnam vidistis [35:30]
Hieronymus PRAETORIUS (1560-1629)
Magnificat quinti toni [11:26]
Johannes ECCARD (1553-1611)
Übers Gerbirg Maria geht [2:56]
Vom Himmel hoch [2:01]
Hans Leo HASSLER (1564-1612)
Hodie Christus natus est [3:15]
Stile Antico
rec. February 2015, All Hallows’ Church, Gospel Oak, London
Texts and translations included

Stile Antico’s new Christmas disc uses as its backbone a technique they have tried before: namely, to use one major work and to intersperse other motets between its movements. In this case, it’s Clemens non Papa’s Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis. The motet on which the mass is based has a text centring on the experience of the Bethlehem shepherds. Sung here, it sounds fresh and light and full of space, and it's very clear when the text turns from the question to the answer, a tribute to how naturally communicative this choir is. As for the mass, the Kyrie moves with thoughtful steadiness, the Gloria is busy and, for me, the Credo is particularly beautiful, as if caught up in the mystery it is describing. The Sanctus and Benedictus both begin this way, but then break off into beautifully judged parallel lines that resemble the pealing of bells. The Agnus Dei, full of crystalline beauty and its fair share of Latin mystery, is a beautiful way to end the disc.

Elsewhere, there is a nicely chosen set of motets between the mass movements. Michael Praetorius’ Ein kind geborn in Bethlehem has ethereal clarity combined with the sense of the dance that was so closely associated with early carols. It’s a delightful combination of the spiritual and the earthily human which gathers in joy as it progresses. Es ist ein Ros begins with the simple stanza we all recognise before pealing off into Melchior Vulpius’ beautifully styled canon on the same text, which is so immediate as to sound almost like a madrigal. Jacob Handl’s Canite Tuba, for male voices only, has an appealing directness to it, while his Mirabile Mysterium rings with chromatic weirdness that you just don't associate with music of this period. It's uncanny, but strangely beautiful.

Hieronymus (no relation to Michael) Praetorius’ 8-part Magnificat sounds both spectacular and intimate, and it features two interpolated carols, most notably the famous In dulci jubilo. The top soprano line is particularly clean and appealing here, while Eccard’s Übers Gerbirg Maria geht has a folksy warmth to it that is very appealing, as is his direct, unfussy setting of Von Himmel Hoch. There is also a lovely clarity to Hassler’s Hodie Christus natus est.

In sum, every bit as excellent as we have come to expect from Stile Antico, and a good companion piece to their earlier Christmas disc, Puer natus est.

Simon Thompson

Previous review: Jonathan Woolf


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