Praetorius

Our rating 
3.0 out of 5 star rating 3.0

COMPOSERS: Praetorius
LABELS: Archiv
ALBUM TITLE: Praetorius
WORKS: Hieronymus Praetorius: Magnificat quarti toni; Quam pulchra es amica mea, etc; plus works by Jacob and Michael Praetorius
PERFORMER: Balthasar-Neumann Choir and Ensemble/Pablo Heras-Casado
CATALOGUE NO: 479 4522

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We have here three early Baroque composers with the surname ‘Praetorius’ – two of them (Hieronymus and Jacob) father and son working in Hamburg, and the third (Michael) unrelated and based in Wolfenbüttel. The performances are directed by Pablo Heras-Casado whose recent recordings were of Schubert and Donizetti (L’elisir d’amore), though we are told that we should not be surprised at the switch because ‘love and passion are timeless’: this is probably more true of human beings than of stylistic approaches to music.

The central figure on this recording is Hieronymus Praetorius. His six works here include an arresting Magnificat and a fine setting of Vulneristi cor meum. The former gets a sprightly performance, and the latter is rendered with sensitivity and poise. However, in these performances the voices are sometimes swamped by the accompanying instruments, and it is not always easy to catch the words because the choir underplays the consonants (especially final ones). This is a fairly large ensemble, recorded in a ‘churchy’ acoustic. We do get a good sense of spatial separation in those pieces employing split choirs (Tota pulchra), but the textures are often muddy.

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Jacob Praetorius’s pieces are better performed. Quam pulchra es, for example, opens with some attractive unaccompanied singing, and proceeds at a clear, calm pace. Michael Praetorius is represented by a single piece, his Magnificat on Ut Re Mi Fa Sol La. It is a dazzling and intriguing work, but the manic pace tends to obscure some detail. Anthony Pryer