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Chorale Masses And Sacred Concertos
Rheinische Kantorei/Hermann Max
rec 1985, no venue given
MDG 6020169-2 [44.27]

Originally recorded and released in the mid 1980’s, I assume that this CD plopped onto my doorstep because it is an appropriate re-release of vocal music using chorales composed by Martin Luther (1483-1546). I assume also that the pitifully short playing time is a result of the fact that the original was made for LP or cassette.

Anyway, by a happy coincidence I found myself listening to this disc during the very week commemorating the day, five hundred years ago, when Luther’s ninety-five theses were hammered into the door of the cathedral in Wittenberg.

Martin Luther was, it must be remembered, a very competent composer and wrote some great tunes three of which are demonstrated on this CD. Christ, unser Herr, zum Jordan kam’– A chorale for a baptismal service, Christ lag in Todesbanden and an Easter chorale which is based on the ancient Latin hymn ‘Victimae Paschali Laudes’, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland based on a Whitsuntide text originally ‘Veni redemptor gentium’.

The Rheinische Kantorei under Hermann Max offer us a sacred concerto each for two sopranos, tenor and basso continuo and Mass movements (curiously, you might think, in Latin), which use these Lutheran chorales. The composer of these vocal concerti was Johann Hermann Schein who worked, interestingly, at Leipzig in the Thomasschulle, making him Bach’s predecessor by two generations.

We are given only the Kyrie and Gloria from Masses by Christoph Bernhard and Frederich Wilhelm Zachow, both highly conservative for the period, being contrapuntal and full of typically renaissance imitation. Zachow was Handel’s teacher and one can hear clearly how Handel must have gained his technical training from such a figure.

And talking of counterpoint the Mass, recorded complete, by Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer, better known as a keyboard composer, based on ‘Nun Komm der Heiden Heiland’ simply recognises its ‘old-style’ with its title Missa in contrapuncto. There are a few baroque traits, however, including a pleasing use of hemiola. The movements which especially connected with me, were the Credo and Agnus with their solo passages contrasting with the ripieno ones. The final ‘donna nobis pacem’ falls into a pleasing triple time.

The performances are perhaps understated but always tasteful and beautifully balanced and enunciated. The Rheiniseche Kanatorei are ideally suited to this repertoire and Hermann Max’s direction never imposes itself between the listener and composer.

The booklet essay by Franzpeter Messmer is adequate although lacking in detail. Translations of the hymn verses set by Schein are given but not the mass movements which it assumes your are familiar with. The recording is natural and unaffected up to high standards developed by MDG.

Gary Higginson

Johann Hermann SCHEIN (1586-1630)
Christ, under Herr, zum Jordan kam
Christoph BERNHARD (1627-1692)
Missa Brevis
Johann Hermann SCHEIN
Christ lag in Todesbanden
Frederich Wilhelm ZACHOW (1663-1712)
Missa super Chorale ‘Christ lag in Todesbanden
Johann Hermann SCHEIN
Nun komm der Heiden Heiland
Johann Caspar FISCHER (c.1665-1746)
Missa in contrapuncto



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