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GRAMOPHONE ( 07/ 2019)
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Reviewer: Edward Breen

The music of Hieronymus Praetorius (15601629) is clearly influenced by Giovanni Gabrielli and the Venetian polychoral style which flourished at the beginning of the 17th century. Through this influence Praetorius became the first internationally famous composer of Hamburg and he is best known today for his double-choir Magnificats and arrangements of medieval tunes including In dulci jubilo. This new double album explores larger-scale motets from eight to 20 voices from his Opus musicum (five volumes, 1599-1625) and is performed by combinations of cornetts, sackbuts, voices (with organ continuo) and solo organ.

The largest motet, Decantabat populus a 20 is a text about singing praises. Despite grand forces and wide vocal ranges, the textures avoid heaviness through use of word-rhythms and sprightly polychoral exchanges. David Skinner plays on these juxtapositions with a separation of voices and instruments. I love the warm, unhurried grandeur His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts bring to this performance, and they are well balanced with the superb singers of Alamire in the acoustic of St Augustine’s, Kilburn. In another obviously joyful work, Iubilate Deo a 12, the opening phrases are among the most exciting and energised on this album.

I found the purely vocal performances less engaging. Take, for instance, the Nunc dimittis a 8: the voices are beautiful, the singing really well controlled, but the overall effect is slightly too crisp and efficient for my tastes. While this performance is certainly not hurried in any way, it is also clear David Skinner does not encourage his performers to languish in any of the overlapping phrases. ‘Quia viderunt oculi mei salutare tuum’ (For mine eyes have seen thy salvation) is a case in point, this recurring motif is served with simplicity and regularity. Considering how close Praetorius stays to the text I would prefer more to be made of such moments. Stephen Farr’s performances on the magnificent organ of Roskilde Cathedral are joyful. The change of venue is carefully engineered and these organ intabulations bring an exciting injection of colour and texture to the whole disc.

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