Praetorius

Balthasar-Neumann-Chor und -Ensemble, Pablo Heras-Casado
Archiv Produktion 479 4522
Hieronymus Praetorius Magnificat quarti toni, O quam pulchra es, Quam pulchra es, Surge propera amica mea, Tota pulchra es, Vulnerasti cor meum
Jacob Praetorius Indica mihi, Quam pulchra es, Veni in hortum meum
Michael Praetorius Magnificat per omnes versus, Nigra sum sed formosa

This is a fine recording of some little-known music. The Praetorius of the title is actually the trinity of Michael, of Dresden, and the unrelated Heironymus and his son Jacob, of Hamburg (the latter a first for me.) The programme combines settings of the Magnificat (by Heironymus and Michael) with motets with texts from The Song of Songs, many previously unrecorded. The performances are generally superb; the opening Heironymus Tone IV Magnificat is wonderfully exciting, with driving ‘Dispersits’, disappearing ‘Dimisit Inanes’ and a welter of antiphonal ‘Saeculorum Amens’. The second Magnificat (Michael this time) is even more interesting, set ‘per omnes versus’ and utilising the hexachord ‘Ut re mi fa sol la’ as both cantus firmus and as a contrapuntal point. It has a particularly splendid conclusion, with the hexachord up and down in long notes in the bass supporting closely contrapuntal upper parts. Jacob’s two wedding motets are gentler; Indica mihi has a lovely ending, with upper and lower voices (representing bride and groom?) echoing each other’s ‘Ego dilecta mea’ / ‘Ego dilecto meo’. The Michael motets abound with felicitous word-painting – try the charming wandering flocks (‘Ne vagari’) of Nigra sum, for example. Heironymus is at his best in the richly sonorous Tota pulchra es, with its crowding ‘Veni, veni, coronaberis’ conclusion.

The Balthasar-Neumann-Chor and -Ensemble respond brilliantly to Heres-Casado’s sometimes rather over-detailed direction; some of the manipulation of dynamics, for example, seems a little unnecessary. The sleeve notes are not so satisfactory; there is a good deal about Heres-Casado, less about the composers and almost nothing about the individual pieces, a particular omission being details of the vocal and instrumental scorings, which are an essential and integral part of this glorious music.

Alastair Harper