A wondrous mystery: Renaissance choral music for Christmas

stile antico
72:57
harmonia mundi HMU 807575
Clemens non Papa: Motet/mass Pastores quidnam vidistis
+ Music by Eccard, Handl, Hassler, Hieronymus and Michael Praetorius & Vulpius

Built around Clemens non Papa’s Christmas Mass Pastores quidnam vidistis, this collection brings us some of the less familiar Renaissance choral repertoire from the continent. Clemens’ Mass, elegant rather than profound, makes pleasant listening, as does his motet on which it is based, and the exquisitely fluid style of Stilo Antico, perfectly blended, beautifully tuned and phrased, serves perhaps to make adequate music sound special. The same is the case with the rather four-square German settings by Michael Praetrius, Johannes Eccard and Melchior Vulpius of vernacular texts, turned to musical gold by the beautifully expressive and crafted singing of Stilo Antico. The balance of the CD is made up with Latin motets by Handl and Hassler and a Magnificat by Hieronymus Praetorius. The daringly chromatic setting of Mirabile Mysterium by Handl exhibits the largely unappreciated skills of this lesser known composer, while his more declamatory Canite tuba demonstrates his versatility. Hassler’s exuberant Hodie Christus natus est is a complete delight, and Praetorius’ Magnificat with its very familiar Christmas ‘inserts’ is charming. There is a tiny recording issue in the second track where a background rumble which one could easily ignore turns rapidly on and off making it more obvious – I can hardly think this is the result of editing as the singing is perfectly continuous and only the rumble pops in and out. This is not enough to put off anybody from buying this superb CD, but a sharp-eared producer might have asked for a retake.
D. James Ross