Bart Jacobs performs Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott: Luther and the Music of the Reformation

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COMPOSERS: Altenburg,Gesius,Hammerschmidt,Luther,Othmayr,Praetorius,Scheidemann,Scheidt et al,Schein
LABELS: Ricercar
ALBUM TITLE: Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott: Luther and the Music of the Reformation
WORKS: Works by Luther, Hammerschmidt, Praetorius, Scheidemann, Gesius, Schein, Othmayr, Altenburg, Scheidt et al
PERFORMER: Vox Luminis/Lionel Meunier; Bart Jacobs (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: RIC 376

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The 500th anniversary of Luther’s ‘95 theses’, a shot across the Papal bows that would eventually lead to the Protestant Reformation, is being roundly celebrated in Germany right now. It may just be, however, that one of the most illuminating of the musical celebrations hails from a Belgian vocal consort, and two outstanding organs built by the Belgian firm of Thomas – one, incidentally, gracing the church where Ravel was christened in the French town of Ciboure. Ein Feste Burg not only salutes Martin Luther through his own music; it traces a fascinating history in sound traversing the first century and a half of Lutheranism, colonising two generously-filled discs housed in a lavishly illustrated book format.

For those who don’t know their Scheidemann from their Gesius, it also opens a tantalising window onto 16th- and 17th-century German music, lending context to towering figures such as Schütz (whose Op. 13 eight-part German Magnificat sets the bar high on disc two). But the compilation also establishes a useful hinterland for that most illustrious of heirs to Luther’s reforming zeal: JS Bach. Shadowy figures as Selle, Resinarius and Bernhard spring vividly to life; and the thematic trajectory of each disc is artfully plotted right down to the concluding motet by Othmayr purporting to smuggle Luther’s deathbed words into the first tenor line.

Lionel Meunier’s assured direction never misses (nor overstates) an expressive trick; and Vox Luminis’s warmly inflected singing is throughout finely-attuned to the way in which every note has its exact place in sustaining the whole. A superb anthology, superbly executed.

Paul Riley

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Listen to an excerpt from this recording here.