The title Der Wächter auf der Zinne, or The Guard on the Battlement, refers not to the title of any musical work, but to the concept of this album of north German music from the early seventeenth century, and the attractive little drawing on the cover makes this concept more clear than the title does. The music here, dances and sacred works by Michael Praetorius and Samuel Scheidt, has been recorded before, but the ensemble Capella de la Torre, with countertenor Dominique Visse, makes a newly detailed attempt to put it in context. Torre, among other things, means tower (in Spanish), and it is tower musicians, especially common in Germany, but also present in other European lands, that this release imagines as the performers of the music. The highly readable booklet (in German, English, and French, with full translations of the vocal works) describes how these musicians grew in status over the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, evolving from watchmen/criers (one unfortunate trombonist fell down a flight of icy tower stairs and knocked out his front teeth) into more prestigious Stadtpfeifer: literally city pipers, for these were wind ensembles. Capella de la Torre uses the ancestors of modern brasses and winds: cornetts, shawms, dulcians, as well as recorders and small, portable keyboard instruments. The notes go on to sketch a situation in which this music would have been played: a new administrator arrived in Halle in 1638 (to replace, it might be added, a predecessor killed in the Thirty Years' War, along with half of the city's population) and listened to the musicians before (or while) he "looked around the town hall and corridors several times." Thus the group evokes an open-air sound, with recording done in the brick church of Fresse in eastern France. Visse's vocals are partially submerged in the brasses, but the ceremonial yet somewhat restrained quality of the whole is quite convincing. The program traces the various components of the Praetorius/Scheidt-era repertoire, which included Italian polychoral effects, French dances, and vocal music in both Latin and German. Everything is neatly brought together in the gorgeous seven-part setting by Praetorius of the familiar chorale Wachet auf, ruft uns di Stimme (Sleepers Awake, track 22) that concludes the disc; you can sample this track for an idea of the whole. This disc marks an important step forward in the interpretation of German music of the early seventeenth century.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Jubilate Domino (from Musae Sioniae)|
|Nun bitten wir den Heiligen Geist|
|Fundamenta tenet mundi|
|Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (from the Polyhymnia caduceatrix)|