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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 has no sooner celebrated its tenth anniversary – see the celebratory disc that charts its course over those two decades – than it releases a Renaissance Christmas disc. The spine of this release is Clemens non Papa’s Missa Pastores quidnam vidistis, which has been programmed to run interweaving between pieces by Johannes Eccard, Jacob Handl, Hans Hassler and Praetorius (Michael and Hieronymous – no relation).

Thus the decision has been made to place a Flemish masterpiece amongst the carols and motets of German contemporaries, but to do so in such a way that juxtaposition is the result, and not the block of the Mass surrounded by the briefer carols. If this conception causes the mass to become somewhat fragmented for conventional listening, it is nevertheless apt for Christmas celebration.

Clemens’ Mass is based on the motet of the same name which is heard after the shapely and fulsome Michael Praetorius Ein Kind geborn in Bethlehem. The Motet has a movingly expressive quality whilst the Mass marries tonal breadth to technical assurance in a performance of the utmost devotion. Both in amplitude and speed the performance stands at a very different remove from, say, that of the Tallis Scholars, where we find a steelier, colder blend and a much brisker tempo. Stile Antico is a good four minutes slower but the vocal aesthetic is also very different.

The two motets by Jacob Handl offer rewarding listening, not least because they are so different and so contrastive. Canite tuba is quite free and festive in expression but Mirabile mysterium is remarkable for its chromaticism and gut-wrenching harmonies – moving from even his own motet to this, let alone from Clemens or Eccard, is to hear the cutting edge of sixteenth-century music. Quite what his contemporaries made of it, let alone an audience, one can but wonder. It’s Gesualdo-like in its strangeness.

Hieronymus Praetorius’ extensive, polychoral Magnificat with its antiphonal opportunities is enlivened by some perceptive word-painting and is memorably performed, as is everything in this desirable seasonal offering. Try Hans Leo Hassler’s Hodie Christus natus est, for example, with its vibrant and affirmative hallelujahs or Eccard’s simpler and briefer, but no less generous Übers Gerbirg Maria geht.

With a well-judged, sympathetic SACD church recording and a fine booklet this can be added to the long list of recommendable offerings from Stile Antico.

Jonathan Woolf



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