Church of the Advent Choir, Boston

Hieronymus Prætorius: Sacred Music for Double Chorus

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The city of Hamburg was home to several composers with the Latinate surname of Praetorius; Hieronymus Praetorius, whose music for double choir is represented here, is unrelated to the Michael Praetorius whose setting of In dulci jubilo is entering its fifth decade as a holiday standard. And he's less renowned, at least until now. This disc, by the also largely unheralded Choir of the Church of the Advent in Boston, makes a case for this Praetorius as a major composer from the dawn of the Baroque era. The main attraction is the Missa super Angelus ad pastores ait, based, as the title suggests, on a double-choir motet of the same title. That motet is, properly, heard at the beginning of the program, followed by the mass. The music here was written on either side of the year 1600, which is very late for a parody or imitation mass; typically such masses adopted blocks of polyphony from their models, but Praetorius follows other composers of his time, both German and Italian, in writing block chords with clearly intelligible texts. Part of the interest of the work lies in how Praetorius gets around the tension between these two styles: he simply ignores the model when he needs to. But more compelling still is the direct expression of the mass text. Praetorius either rejected or was unaware of the highly expressive language of Monteverdi's seconda prattica, but even within a restricted harmonic palette, or perhaps because of that restriction, he conveys a personal reaction even to the conventional mass text. The break into an ecstatic triple meter at the anticipation of eternal life at the end of the Credo (track 4) is one of several good examples, and the collection of German and Latin motets that round out the program offer many more. The Choir of the Church of the Advent, an Anglo-Catholic outfit under the direction of Chinese-born conductor Edith Ho, sings this German Protestant music as though to the manner born. They are technically top-notch, and Ho gets the tricky combination of transparency and spirituality that defines this music. Beautifully recorded, this album will be enjoyed by everyone from Baroque specialists to casual fans of choral singing, and it represents a new standard for the performance of early Baroque music in the U.S.

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