Alamire / David Skinner / Stephen Farr / His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts

Hieronymus Praetorius: Motets in 8, 10, 12, 16 & 20 Parts

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Hieronymus Praetorius is unrelated to composer Michael Praetorius and is much less well known than his namesake. His neglect is probably due to a comparative dearth of surviving music, but this release by the vocal group Alamire under David Skinner and joined by His Majesty's Sagbutts and Cornetts, suggests that closer attention is warranted. In these motets, at least, Hieronymus was a North German counterpart to Schütz, an early adopter of the Venetian polychoral style. Like Schütz, he put his own twists on it, although these pieces do not have the deep gravity of Schütz's. Instead, he deployed the voices of his multiple choirs in various ways, offering clear part-writing for as many as 16 or 20 voice lines. For the maximal effect, sample the Decantabat populus a20, which has a truly kaleidoscopic effect as blocks separate and recombine. The diverse forces here are mostly veteran musicians and cohere beautifully as an ensemble. Are two CDs of music, not intended to be performed at a stretch, a lot for average listeners? Maybe, but even for them, this is a useful reference recording, and fans of the early Baroque will find much to admire.

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