Praetorius: Christmas Vespers

Apollo’s Fire | The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra, Jeannette Sorrell
74:40
Avie Records AV2306

This is a bit of a mixture. This “Christmas Vespers” is nothing like the McCreesh “Christmas Mass”, which has been used by performers in various parts of the world. It had the benefit of Robin Leaver as distinguished expert – he and I sat at the back row and heard the recording for the BBC before the CD was issued, but we talked rather too much!* This Apollo’s Fire CD is not one of their best. I won’t go into details, but the singing doesn’t have the clarity one expects from the period (c.1600-1620) and the rallentandos are particularly out of time: I haven’t got my Praetorius writings at hand, since much of my music has gone to a Cambridge library, but my recollection is that there is no change of speed except that the penultimate bar can be slower. I feel that the speed of pieces with high cornetti is just a fraction too quick. The title is misleading: McCreesh produced a full CD of Vespers, but this squashes a Lutheran Advent service and a Vespers for Christmas Day, neither being satisfactory.

Individual pieces don’t always work. One of my favourites is Puer natus: Ein Kind geborn. There are more dynamics needed: think of quiet, medium and loud sections. The Sinfonia should surely stay at the soft level (mp), without stressing each bar in the triple time. The vocal trio and Bc needs a normal sound, but the ritornelli are short and strong. The final section (from “Mein Herzens kindlein”) has full forces but ends quietly – follow the text – and in general, the text needs more variety of the stress of the accents. This sounds as if I’m a modernist, but the tempo is rigid (except as noted above) and it will sound much more Praetorian than anything else on this disc. I’m not convinced that Jeannette Sorrell is adequately aware of early baroque, though she is far better in late baroque. Two specific errors are having a cello (which appeared in the 1640s) and a double bass (which became standard in 1702 in France). The lowest pitch would have been the G or F below the bass sackbut’s B flat.

*The Michael Praetorius Christmas Mass was recorded by The Gabrieli Consort and Players (Archiv 439-250-2). I prepared the musical edition, which is available from The Early Music Company Ltd. The solo organ pieces were contributed by Tim Roberts and are not in the score.

Clifford Bartlett