Luther: The noble art of music

Utopia Belgian handmade polyphony, InAlto
Et’cetera KT1577

This imaginative CD groups treatments by a number of composers from the period immediately following the Reformation of specific texts which were particularly admired at this time, namely: Aus tiefer Not, Vater unser  and Christ lag in Todesbanden. Introducing several of these with settings by Josquin of equivalent pre-Reformation texts, they usefully draw attention to the continuity of the early Reformed tradition rather than its radical differences from the music of the previous generation.

Prominent composers such as Eccard, Othmayr, Praetorius and Lassus feature, but perhaps more interesting are the obscure composers such as Matthaeus Le Maistre, Arnoldus de Bruck and Johann Walter. The Reformation was a great leveler, and it is interesting that the rather simple harmonisations which its philosophy encouraged set the great and the frankly mediocre on an equal footing. The alternation of the wind instruments of InAlto with the unaccompanied voices of Utopia, occasionally mixing the two in various combinations, maintains textural interest, but unfortunately I found a lot of the music on this CD just rather dull. This is not helped by the rather unrelentingly close recording of the voices, which cruelly emphasizes slight indecisions in intonation. Having said that, some composers such as Lassus’ pupil Balduin Hoyoul vividly stand out from the crowd. Worthwhile alone for the unknown composers represented, this CD does cast an interesting light on the music which flourished in the early days of the Protestant Church in Germany.

D. James Ross

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