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GRAMOPHONE (January / 2017)
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Reviewer: Alexandra Coghlan

Once praised for its perfection by Michael Praetorius, the 1624 Hans Scherer organ of St Stephan of Tangermünde is one of the only surviving ‘Hamburg-Prospekt’ organs from the early Baroque period in northern Germany still practically in original condition. The organ’s restoration some 20 years ago gave it back its original tone and mean-tone temperament, and it’s now a rare instrument on which we can accurately recreate the sounds of the period in music by the Praetorius family, Buxtehude, Böhm and Weckmann.  

This quietly delightful recording by organist Kei Koito and vocal ensemble Il Canto di Orfeo pairs works from this golden age of German organ music with chorales, hymns and chants. The result is neither quite liturgy nor concert but a sort of musical meditation in which we often trace a single chorale melody or hymn tune from its origins through embellished organ arrangements and variations.  

The sequence, which at a glance seems rather one-note, actually gives a strong sense of the stylistic breadth of the period, featuring Venetian-style polychoral dances alongside wonderfully austere Lutheran works. Using some original registration suggestions, organist Kei Koito gives her listeners a tour of her characterful instrument. Soft-spoken reeds bring an otherworldly delicacy to the long, unbroken melody of Praetorius’s O lux beata Trinitas, while Buxtehude’s punchy Nun lob, mein Seel glitters brass-bright. Only the anonymous Allein Gott in der Höh sei Ehr overcooks things with some brass stops that blurt horribly flat.

The vocal works, directed by Gianluca Capuano, are exemplary, the vibrato-less purity and soft blend of their solo voices mirroring with uncanny sympathy the tone of the organ itself. Plainchant lilts and curves with ease, and everything from that to various Lutheran hymns and a charming little chanson-like psalm-setting by Goudimel, J’ayme mon Dieu, is dextrously and unobtrusively shaped. Oh for some texts and translations, though, to give the full picture of works whose sacred words are all-important.

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