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Cor Europæ
Christmas in Mediaeval Prague
Details after review
Tiburtina Ensemble/Barbora Kabátková (soprano)
rec. Church of St James, Zbraslav Castle, Prague, Czech Republic, 24-29 May 2019. DDD.
Texts and translations included
RICERCAR RIC410 [60:12]

In Natali Domini
Christmas songs from Staniątki Cantional and Renaissance dances from Cracow Lute Tablature
Ensemble QuattroVoce
Period instrument consort/Jacek Urbaniak (bombard, recorders, cornamuse and bell)
rec. Concert Hall of the Ignacy Paderwski School of Music, Białystok, Poland, 3-5 July 2019. DDD.
Latin and Polish texts included.
Includes world premiere recordings.

Every Christmas I look for recordings to recommend that cover new ground. Of course, there’s plenty of room for the old favourites, secular and sacred, and you’ll find several of these in my Autumn 2019/2 round-up – here – and Winter 2019-20/1 round-up – pending. There are several recordings of less familiar material there, too, and in my review of Scintillate amicæ stellæ, Christmas in the Convents of C16 and C17 Italy (Tactus TC280003 – review). Now two recordings of music from Central and Eastern Europe can be added to the list. Both contain material which, to the best of my knowledge, has not been recorded before and both, in their different ways, are enjoyable.

The Ricercar album brings us music from three editions, all associated with Prague, Cor Europæ, the heart of Europe, as the title names it. For its appreciation of Mozart alone, it deserves the title, but the music on the new recording, from the Convent of St George and the Cathedral of St Vitus from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, strengthens the claim.

The all-female Tiburtina Ensemble brought us a recording of the music of the twelfth-century mystic, abbess, polymath and composer Hildegard of Bingen, which Marc Rochester characterised as ‘highly effective [and] treated with love and devotion by … committed and sincere performers’ (Ricercar RIC383 – review). He was not alone in enjoying that recording, which I received as a press preview as a poor bit-rate mp3 and intended to request in lossless sound. I never received that, so I didn’t get around to reviewing it. Doing so now from the 192kbs preview, I found it enjoyable but not my first choice for Hildegard’s music – that must remain Emma Kirkby and Gothic Voices, A Feather on the Breath of God (Hyperion CDA66039 – mid-price CD or budget download from With minimal duplication, however, the Ricercar would make a fine addition to the Hyperion.

The ensemble is slimmed down for the new Christmas recording to just four singers, without the harps and dulcian which were used as sensitive accompaniment to the Hildegard recording. The music is taken from the three nocturnes of Matins, Vespers and the Mass; there is no attempt to reconstruct any one of these services in a continuous sequence, but that won’t trouble most listeners.

Nor, I suppose, will they be interested in that vestige of the medieval rites, the extended Kyrie, also found in the English Sarum rite, whereby the Greek words Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy) and Christe eleison (Christ have mercy) were extended with additional Latin descriptors of God the Father and Christ. That’s for nerds who once studied liturgical history, like myself, but the rest of us can enjoy the music.

Nothing on the new recording is quite as delectable as the music of Hildegard – she’s a very hard act to follow – but I certainly don’t wish to give the impression that it’s of interest only to musicologists and liturgical scholars; far from it.

The size of the ensemble may be scaled down this time, but the singing is just as fine as before, at times verging on the ethereal. The soprano Hana Blažíková is well known in her own right, featuring most recently in Bach’s ‘Coffee’ Cantata and other music (Routes du Café, Alpha 543, a concept album that works well – my review is pending) but here, as in Hildegard, her voice is well integrated with the other performers.

Most of the Polish music on Acte Préalable is by that prolific musician Anon, but the four named composers will be fairly familiar to reasonably well-informed aficionados of renaissance and baroque music. All are worthy of more attention than they have received.

Coro, Dux, CD Accord and Ambronay have all brought us music by Bartłomiej Pękiel, and Tielman Susato is well known as the collector of dance music known as Danserye, immortalised by David Munrow’s Early Music Consort (Erato Veritas 3500032, 2-CDs-for-1, around £8.50). None of these recordings, however, include the music on the new CD.

The music is a century or three later than that on Ricercar and more popular in nature, whether the texts are Latin or Polish. At times it sounds similar in style to the arrangements of the Mass which Czech composers made for their congregations: try Ryba Czech Christmas Mass (Naxos 8.554428 – December 2009, or DG Archiv 4778365 – review, download only, or Supraphon SU36582 – review). Like the Ryba and the similar work by Pascha, which seems to have vanished from the catalogue, the music is accompanied by a veritable host of instruments; as well as the bombard, recorders, cornamuse and bell played by the director, we have viola da gamba, recorders, lute, renaissance guitar, hurdy-gurdy, crumhorn, drums and bells. How ‘authentic’ this is, I don’t know, but it suits the music well and it's fun.  It's reminsicent of David Munrow's recordings, which is high praise in my book.

Where the music on Ricercar is courtly and thoughtful, echoing the mystery of Christmas, that on Acte Préalable falls into what I call the ‘jolly japes’ category. There’s a place for both, and the choice of either or both is yours. I shall be listening to both; in neither case do I think you will be disappointed.

I must deduct half a mark from Acte Préalable for mis-spelling congregati as congregate in Ecce reges terræ congregati sunt in the track listing, though not in the text of the piece. (Perhaps the work of the dreaded Word spell-checker.) And a whole mark off for the lack of English translations of the texts and for the small font of the Latin and Polish texts. Otherwise, both booklets are attractive and informative and both recordings do justice to the performances.

Brian Wilson

Antiphona Ave spes nostra [1:20]
Benedicamen In hac precelsa sollempnitate [1:50]
Kyrie Creator pater increate [3:09]
Hymnus Veni Redemptor gencium [2:20]
Lectio Primo tempore [3:42]
Offertorium Tui sunt celi – Tropus Nate Dei [8:12]
Lectio Iube Domine – Consolamini [2:49]
Benedicamen Splendor patris et sol – Festivali melodia [4:10]
Benedicamen Puer natus in Bethlehem [2:01]
Lectio Consolamini [5:06]
Responsorium Descendit de cælis – Tropus Fabrica mundi [7:59]
Lectio Iube Domine – Consurge [1:49]
Benedicamen Nos respectu gracie [1:58]
Introitus Lux fulgebit – Tropus Lumen clarum rite [4:45]
Cantio Gaude quam magnificat [1:19]
Sanctus super Gaude quam magnificat [2:23]
Benedicamen Patrem parit filia [1:55]
Agnus Dei [1:40]
Motet Exordium quadruplate – Nate Dei – Concrepet infanti – Verbum caro [1:36]

Anon (Staniątki Cantional) Promit vox angelica - C16-17 [2:37]
O sine labe intensa - C16-17 [2:04]
Ave magne Rex cœlorum / Zdrow bądź - C15-17 [3:12]
Anon (Cracow Lute Tablature) Nigdym temu wierzyć nie chciał - C16 []
Bartłomiej PĘKIEL (?-1670) Magnum nomen Domini [2:16]
Anon (Staniątki Cantional) Christus, qui genitus Mariæ - C16 [1:21]
Tempus monet, ut cithara sonum det - C17 [1:58]
Anon (Cracow Lute Tablature) Pavan, Galarda - C16 [3:14]
Anon (Staniątki Cantional) Vidua et prophetissa - C17 [2:04]
Quem pastores laudavere – C17 [2:07]
In natali Domini / Z Bożego Narodzenia – C17 [3:55]
Anon (Cracow Lute Tablature) Tantum ergo sacramentum – C16 [2:10]
Anon (Staniątki Cantional) Narrant vaticina - C16-17 [1:50]
Iam cantemus hodie - C16-17 [1:25]
Ecce reges terræ congregati sunt – C16 [1:56]
Valentin BAKFARK (1507-1576) (Cracow Lute Tablature) Non ditto [2:16]
Anon (Staniątki Cantional) Gratanter iubilemus - C18 [5:22]
Pastores, relinquite vestores greges - C16-18 [3:29]
Congaudete laete, laete - C16-17 [1:10]
Anon (Cracow Lute Tablature) Smutne serce żałością – C16 [1:40]
Nigdy bych ja wierzyć nie chciał - Pasamezzo, Saltarello [1:52]
Tielman SUSATO (1500-1570) (Staniątki Cantional) Angelus Domini ad pastores [2:08]
Anon (Staniątki Cantional) Dominus natus est - C16-17 [1:57]
Emanuel de virgine natus est hodie - C16-17 [1:34]
Anon (Cracow Lute Tablature) Ferdinanth – C16 [1:48]
Grzegorz Gerwazy GORCZYCKI (c.1665-1734) Jesu redemptor omnium [3:20]

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