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Hieronymus PRAETORIUS (1560 - 1629): Missa Tulerunt Dominum meum

Siglo de Oro
Dir: Patrick Allies

rec: Sept 6 - 8, 2017, Oxford, chapel of Merton College
Delphian Records - DCD34208 ( 2018) (59'27")
Liner-notes: E; lyrics - translations: E
Cover, track-list & booklet
Parts Florilegium Portense, 1618

[in order of appearance] [Maundy Thursday] Orlandus LASSUS (1532-1594): Tristis est anima mea; Jacob HANDL-GALLUS (1550-1591): Filiae Jerusalem, nolite; [Good Friday] Hieronymus PRAETORIUS: O vos omnes; Hans-Leo HASSLER (1564-1612): Deus, Deus meus; [Easter Day] Hieronymus PRAETORIUS: Tulerunt Dominum meum; Missa Tulerunt Dominum meum; Andrea GABRIELI (c1533-1585): Maria stabat ad monumentum; Hieronymus PRAETORIUS: Surrexit pastor bonus

Rachel Ambrose-Evans, Christine Buras, Hannah Ely, Helena Thomson, soprano; Harriet Hougham Slade, Rebekah Jones, Lissie Paul, contralto; Simon Ponsford, alto; Paul Bentley-Angell, Chris Fitzgerald-Lombard, Josh Cooter, Tom Castle, tenor; Ben McKee, Ben Rowarth, David Le Prevost, Thomas Flint, bass

Hieronymus Praetorius was a member of a dynasty of organists who played a key role in music life in northern Germany in the late 16th and early 17th centuries. They were leading representatives of what has become known as the North German organ school. However, relatively few organ works from Hieronymus's pen have come down to us. The largest part of his extant oeuvre comprises vocal music for the liturgy. Only a small portion of his output in this genre has been recorded to date, and from that perspective every disc devoted to his sacred music is most welcome. That goes especially as it is put into a historical and liturgical context which makes sense, as is the case here. This is not a liturgical reconstruction in the true sense of the word, as the programme moves from music for Maundy Thursday to pieces for Easter. However, the programme is put together in such a way, that it gives a fairly good picture of the liturgical practices at the time.

One important aspect immediately springs to mind, if one looks at the titles of the different pieces. All of them are on Latin texts. It was one of Martin Luther's objectives to give the vernacular its rightful place in the liturgy, but that does not mean that he was in favour of abolishing Latin altogether. Even in Bach's time in Leipzig Latin still took a substantial part in the liturgy. He composed several sections of the Mass in Latin. Therefore it is not surprising that Praetorius's Missa Tulerunt Dominum meum is the centrepiece in the programme. Secondly, there is much variety in the list of composers represented here. Rather than being a hotchpotch of pieces brought together at random, they are taken from one of the most important sources of motets, used in the liturgy of Protestant churches at the time. In 1618 Erhard Bodenschatz published a collection of 256 motets, mostly in Latin, taken from all over Europe, and from different times. Some of them were written fairly recently, others were much older. Most of the pieces are from representatives of the Franco-Flemish school. This means that the majority was written for the Catholic liturgy. This did not cause any problems. In musical matters there was no watershed between the various confessions. Moreover, many motets are settings of biblical texts, and especially from the Book of Psalms, and therefore perfectly fitted in the Lutheran liturgy. Only those pieces which explicitly referred to doctrines of the Catholic Church, to which Luther objected, were omitted. This collection remained in use for over a century, including at the Thomasschule in Leipzig, when Bach was Thomaskantor.

Orlandus Lassus is one of the main and latest representatives of the Franco-Flemish school, whose oeuvre shows an increasingly strong connection between text and music, and Tristis est anima mea, one of the responsories for Holy Week, is no exception. Jacob Handl-Gallus was from what today is Slovenia and worked most of his life at the Habsburg court in Prague. Filiae Jerusalem, nolite is about Jesus's journey towards the Cross. It is scored for eight voices, and Handl-Gallus makes use of the Venetian cori spezzati technique.

The same does Hans-Leo Hassler, even though Deus, Deus meus is for only six voices. Hassler had been in Venice to take lessons from Andrea Gabrieli, which gave him the chance to experience polychorality first-hand. With Praetorius's O vos omnes we have another setting of a responsory for Holy Week. It includes chromaticism, a token that Praetorius was not any different from Lassus in looking for expressing the meaning of the text in his music. With this section devoted to Good Friday we are at the end of Holy Week and move to Easter.

Praetorius used his own motet Tulerunt Dominum meum as the foundation of his mass. Its text is a setting of John 20, vs11-13 and Matthew 28, vs7. Mary Magdalene arrives on Easter morning at Jesus's grave, only to find it empty. "They have taken away my Lord and I do not know where they have put him". The motet comprises two sections which tell the same story in two episodes: the second says that Mary bends down and looks into the tomb. Both sections end with two angels telling her that Jesus is "going ahead of you to Galilee, there you will see him. Alleluia." This text explains why this motet is not as jubilant as much music for Easter. It has also left its mark in Praetorius's mass. In his liner-notes, Patrick Allies points out at length, how Praetorius translates the text into his music. I confine myself to mentioning a few moments. Praetorius uses the material of his motet extensively in his mass; the first Kyrie, for instance, opens with the same motif as the motet. Like the motet, the mass is for eight voices, and Praetorius exploits this scoring for antiphonal passages, for instance in the first half of the Gloria. At the end the two choirs get involved in a dialogue. Traditionally the words "et incarnatus est" receive much attention in the Credo. It is not overlooked here, as the low voices sing these words in long phrases. But Luther's theology is known as theologia crucis for a reason: the Cross is the heart of his doctrines, and this could explain why the words "passus et sepultus est" are given special attention by Praetorius, who combines a falling scalic figure in the first soprano and tenor with sequential melismas in the inner parts. The Sanctus has no Osanna section, but the Benedictus has two. In the third and last Agnus Dei the voices enter one by one, imitating one another in a figure taken from the motet.

The Gloria and Credo are separated by the motet Maria stabat ad monumentum from the pen of Andrea Gabrieli. It is another setting of John 20, vs11-13, this time without the addition about the angels from Matthew. It ends with Mary saying to the angels that she does not know "where they have put him". Gabrieli uses a descending figure to illustrate these words.

The disc ends with a more typical Easter motet, Surrexit pastor bonus, the second Matins Responsory for Easter Monday, appropriately chosen from the oeuvre of Praetorius. It opens with an ascending figure, and stylistically the piece is reminiscent of the madrigals of the time. A work like this could have been performed with instruments, playing colla voce. That was quite common at the time, but certainly not always practised. Moreover, considering the rather restrained character of Praetorius's mass and the motet on which it is based, there are good reasons to perform them - and even more so the preceding motets for Holy Week - a capella.

The choir does really everything right. There is no hint of vibrato in any of the voices, the balance between the various voice groups is excellent, and the blending is immaculate. Even the German pronunciation of Latin is correct. I had not heard this choir before; its only previous disc was devoted to contemporary music, which I obviously don't know. The acquaintance with Siglo de Oro is a most pleasant one, and I look forward to forthcoming recordings of early music. This disc deserves to be strongly recommended.

Johan van Veen ( 2019)

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