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Hieronymus PRAETORIUS (1560–1629)
Motets in 8, 10, 12, 16 and 20 Parts (Operum Musicum Tomus Quartus, Hamburg, 1618)
Details after review.
His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts
Stephen Farr (organ)
Alamire [Grace Davidson, Fiona Fraser, Camilla Harris, Rachel Haworth, Katy Hill, Kirsty Hopkins (sopranos); Helen Charlston, Hannah Cooke, Martha McLorinan, Ellie Minney, Clare Wilkinson (altos); Guy Cutting, Steven Harrold, Nicholas Todd, Simon Wall (tenors); Richard Bannan, Gregory Skidmore (baritones); James Birchall, Tom Flint, William Gaunt, Robert Macdonald (basses)]/David Skinner
rec. St Augustine’s Church, Kilburn, London, 11–13 September 2018 (choir & ensemble) and Roskilde Cathedral, Denmark, 5 January 2019 (solo organ). DDD.
Texts and translations included.
Organ specification included.
INVENTA RECORDS INV001 [57:46 + 42:39] 

Inventa Records is a new offshoot of Resonus Classics, itself a fairly recent label and pretty inventive in its own right. This recording is of the polychoral music of Hieronymus Prętorius – very well-known and influential in his own day but now overshadowed by the other Prętorius, Michael, no relation. Other very good recordings of his music there have been, not least on Delphian recently (details below), but this new 2-CD set – a fairly short two CDs, it has to be admitted – will serve very well to demonstrate the reason for his contemporary fame. This seems to be the new home for the accomplished early music specialists Alamire, who have made some very fine recordings, much praised in these quarters, on the Obsidian label. The ‘recommended’ accolade is partly for the quality of the music, the performances, recording and presentation, and partly to celebrate the launch of the new label.

This music, from the first high tide of North German Lutheranism, is hardly less majestic than its Venetian models in the music of the Gabrielis, Monteverdi and their contemporaries, which circulated widely throughout Germany.

In most cases, these are the only currently available recordings. Some of the Christmas-related music has been recorded before on seasonal recordings as, for example, Angelus ad pastores ait on Baroque Christmas in Hamburg (CPO 777553-2: Bremer Barock/Manfred Cordes – Recording of the Month)

My only regret in recommending this recording is that Alamire did not add more of the wonderful music of Hieronymus Prętorius to these rather short CDs. Fortunately, I was able immediately to follow up with the Delphian recording mentioned above, on which his Missa Tulerunt Dominum is accompanied by music from his older South German contemporary Hans Leo Hassler, Lassus, Handl-Gallus and Andrea Gabrieli (DCD34208: Siglo de Oro/Patrick Allies – review). Having reviewed the Delphian from mp3, I was able to download the 24-bit version, with pdf booklet, from – it’s rather expensive at £13.99, but worth paying for the higher quality sound.

The chief competition, though here again there are only a handful of works in common, comes from a Hyperion recording of Prętorius Magnificats and other music (CDA6769: Cardinall’s Musick/Andrew Carwood – review). Johan van Veen’s approval of the Hyperion was mitigated by his dislike of the degree of vibrato employed. While I can see where he is coming from, I’m far less worried about that – I wonder, indeed, how much was actually tolerated in practice at the time. In any case, I imagine that my colleague would be happier on that score with the new Alamire recording.

In Laudate Dominum Carwood adopts a faster tempo than David Skinner, as does Manfred Cordes, directing Weser-Renaissance Bremen (CPO 999649-2, mid-price: Vesper for St Michael’s Day). In fact, the tempi on the new recording are all on the broad side. While a fast tempo certainly suits this music of praise, Alamire’s broader approach works even better; there’s nothing sluggish about this or any of the works on these CDs. Given the choice of just one Hieronymus Prętorius CD, I would choose the new Alamire recording even over the Cardinall’s Musick, but to have both and the Delphian would be better still.

On a CPO recording entitled San Marco in Hamburg, the title stressing the Venetian influence on Prętorius’s music, Weser-Renaissance Bremen and Manfred Cordes open proceedings with Jubilate Deo (777245-2, download only). It’s taken rather faster than on the new Alamire recording and, by comparison, loses some of the grandeur of the music. Nevertheless, while my preference for the new Inventa is clear in this instance, there’s more very fine music on the CPO and, that one direct comparison apart, it’s well worth adding to your collection – review Christmas 2009. The link which I gave no longer applies: subscribers can stream from Naxos Music Library (no booklet).

In the few pieces where there are other available recordings, the honours go to the new recording from Alamire. There is one other recording of Prętorius’ music which I haven’t yet considered: on an album entitled Sacred Music for Double Chorus, Boston Church of the Advent Choir, directed by Edith Ho and Ross Wood, offer a recording of Angelus ad Pastores – and, indeed, the whole Mass of that name – and give the music as much weight as Alamire or, indeed, as I could hope for. The fine singing on this recording, on the Arsis label, deserves serious consideration (ARSIS-CD165).

The Boston team also give due weight to Nunc Dimittis, at almost the same tempo as Alamire. Once again, the singing is excellent on both recordings, but the difference is that on Arsis the music is sung a cappella throughout, whereas Alamire, though on their own here, are accompanied by His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts in some of the other music, as on the final Exultate iusti, where they go out in style, yet without the accompaniment overpowering the singing. The variation between accompanied and unaccompanied on Inventa is much in its favour, again in preference to the unaccompanied performances on Hyperion and Delphian, good as those are.  Prętorius doesn't specify how and where the music should be accompanied, but on Inventa these issues are sensibly and effectively decided.

One CD1 track 5, Ecce Dominus veniet, and CD2 track 5, Ecce quam bonum, the Sagbutts and Cornetts have the field to themselves. The words of these two pieces would be familiar to the congregation, as would those of the Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus and Agnus Dei on the tracks labelled summum, where the organ takes over, as in Couperin’s organ masses, with the choir singing plainchant alternatim. And it’s no ordianry organ – that of Roskilde Cathedral, just over the border from Hamburg in Denmark and a fine instrument of the North German type, painstakingly restored by Marcussen.

The same organ was used for Paul McCreesh’s DG Archiv reconstruction of Michael Prętorius’s Christmas Mass and the full specification is given in the booklet. It’s no mean feat for the engineers to have harmonised the Roskilde acoustic with that of St Augustine’s, Kilburn; at least the DG engineers recorded everything in the Cathedral (4791757, mid-price).

Having listened to the new recording, I had to look for more of the music of Hieronymus Prętorius. There isn’t enough of it, but Bremen Weser-Renaissance and Manfred Cordes have recently added to our appreciation with a recording of his Missa in festo Sanctissimę Trinitatis, a reconstruction of a Mass for Trinity Sunday in the manner of the better-known DG recording from Paul McCreesh of the other Prętorius’s Christmas Mass (CPO 777954-2 – review).

All those other recordings offer good or very good supplements to the new album from Alamire, but this is now my prime recommendation for this neglected composer. I reiterate that the quality of the music, performances, recording and presentation all add up my putting this forward for serious consideration as a Recording of the Month.

Brian Wilson

Dixit Dominus a12 [5:49]
Nunc dimittis a8 [7:34]
Sequentia : Grates nunc omnes [8:03]
Angelus ad pastores ait a12 [5:59]
Ecce Dominus veniet a8 [4:52]
Decantabat populus a20 [5:44]
Kyrie summum [9:12]
Gloria summum [10:27]
Laudate Dominum a8 [4:36]
Sanctus summum [4:28]
Agnus Dei summum [5:34]
Iubilate Deo a12 [4:59]
Ecce quam bonum a8 [4:06]
Levavi oculos meos a10 [5:28]
Sequentia : Victimę paschali laudes [7:47]
Exultate iusti a16 [5:36]

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