18 Songs, 58 Minutes

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CNeuend ,

Energetic Performances of Lutheran Chorales

Of all the recordings of Lutheran chorales that I have come across, this is among the very best, and the only one that approaches the energy and beauty of Paul McCreesh’s “Praetorius: Mass for Christmas Morning.” Credit for this feat goes largely to Johannes Eccard (1553–1611), whose five-part arrangements are elaborate enough to give a sense of scale and grandeur, yet without in any way obscuring the elemental beauty of the melodies themselves. The performers, especially the boy singers, deserve accolades for the sheer energy with which they infuse the pieces. The album opens with a lively performance of Luther’s “Ein feste Burg,” complete with percussion that, while not overpowering, serves to intensify the natural pulse of the music. Only stanzas 1 and 3 are sung, with an instrumental interlude. The omission of stanza 2, with its soaring paean to Christ, is deeply to be regretted. Still, this is the single best performance of the hymn in its original syncopated rhythmic form that I have encountered. Track 2 is an achingly beautiful performance of stanzas 1 and 3 of Luther’s “Aus tiefer Not,” using the tune originating in Strassburg, 1525, later to be known by the name “Herr, wie du willst.” Track 3, “Erbarm dich mein,” captures the penitential spirit of the hymn and its source, Psalm 51. The tune is not present in English-speaking Lutheran hymnals, but it is a classic of German Lutheran hymnody. Track 17 is a stirringly strong performance of stanzas 1, 5, and 9 of Luther’s “Vater unser im Himmelreich,” his hymnic version of the Lord’s Prayer. The album closes with a deeply moving rendition of Luther's “Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich,” featuring a return to the percussion of the opening.

Tracks 15 and 16 are beautiful selections from the “Preussische Festlieder” (available as a separate album). The rest are secular songs, which, while skillfully performed, lack the energy and significance of the hymn selections.

Overall, this album is a must-have for any lover of the Lutheran chorale tradition.

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