Joseph Martin Kraus' most famous work -- the one that was still heard once in awhile even though his name was wholly out of circulation -- is his Funeral Cantata for King Gustav III, written in the last year of Kraus' life to memorialize his fallen patron. It is not his only sacred work, however; although they are relatively small in number, Kraus' sacred choral works may be found in all parts of his career and include some pretty substantial pieces. CPO's Joseph Martin Kraus: Sacred Works contains three such works -- very early settings of the Miserere (1773), a Requiem Mass (1775), and a middle period motet based on a Marian antiphon, Stella coeli (1783). These are performed by a group of soloists and the Deutscher Kammerchor with La Stagione Frankfurt under the direction of Michael Schneider. Although there is some curiosity about the date of the Requiem, the two earlier pieces date from Kraus' years as a university student studying law, not music. The motet came about in the South German town of Amorbach, where Kraus stopped on his learning tour during the early part of his stint as Gustav III's music master; in 1783 Kraus would have enjoyed the famous Stumm organ just installed; it's still there today, although much modified since Kraus' time.
Although the essay in the booklet is titled "Sacred Music of the Sturm und Drang," one would have to look pretty hard to find Sturm und Drang in the earlier Kraus works, although the "Dies Irae" of the Requiem comes close. The Miserere and Requiem contain harbingers of Kraus' general talent, but it's still in development; if you blindfolded even an expert listener and asked "which Haydn brother is this?" you probably wouldn't get the answer "neither." The motet Stella coeli is a better constructed piece than the others, with their long strings of really short movements, though it is of a sunnier disposition than we usually expect from Kraus; perhaps he had in mind the tastes of the Bavarian town in which he was asked to compose it. These performances are not very polished, nor are the soloists particularly distinguished; they are not a bad bunch, but alto Paul Gerhard Adam sounds tentative and nervous as though he's struggling on "Sacrificium" in the Miserere, which is odd, as the music he's singing really isn't that difficult. Also, the chorus sounds a little ragged in spots, and in general these are less than energetic performances. With all of the wide variety of choices in Kraus that one may encounter at the time of release of CPO's Joseph Martin Kraus: Sacred Works, this should not be regarded as a priority, although only the Requiem has been recorded before.