The modern city of Nuremberg is something of a backwater. It sits, a protestant island in the sea of Bavarian catholicism with neither cathedral nor university, not even a grand duke of any sort to give it clout, but 500 years ago it was a powerhouse, standing at the crossroads of European culture. It gloried in many fine churches whose wealth and ambition were shown off in their music-making. We don't think nowadays of Nuremberg as a great musical centre, but Pia Praetorius, the Cantor of the Egidienkirche, has delved into the choirbooks which were assembled by her predecessor, Friedrich Lindner, and this CD reveals the richness of the city's musical life in the late sixteenth century.
All the music presented here is found in the Egidien choirbooks (and represent only a tiny fraction of the 450 works included therein), and what is immediately striking is how diverse the works are, ranging from Lassus' long 'In principio erat verbum' to the polychoral splendour of 'Hodie Christus natus est' by Hassler, as well as intimate, small-scale works such as Merulo's 'Tribus miraculis.' This reflects the range of sources on which Lindner drew in compiling his choirbooks, and the collection represents a broad cross-section of choral writing in Europe at the time. Particularly exciting is the inclusion of two works by Raphaela Aleotti, prioress of the Augustinian cloister in Ferrara, which have not been recorded before.
Pia Praetorius, in her excellent liner notes, gives a vivid account of performance practices in Nuremberg during Lindner's lifetime, and she draws on over 50 musicians in this recording, not in an attempt to reconstruct any particular event, but to represent the range of ways this music was performed. The mass and larger-scale motets are performed by her excellent choir, a mixed ensemble of approximately 24 voices whose rich, expressive sound is perfect for these works. They are usually accompanied by the period-instrument ensemble Oltermontano, who perform a fascinating range of instruments (including, much to my delight, a rackett!), who add thrilling ornamentation to the top lines in addition to the warmth and power of the sackbutts. The smaller-scale works are performed by the Schola Cantorum Nürnberg, an ensemble of professional solo voices, at times a capella, at times with a mixture of voices and instruments.
What makes this CD so satisfying lies in the success of the project on so many levels: Pia Praetorius has compiled an excellent programme; she draws passionate, skilful performances from her several ensembles; and the disc is varied in sound, texture and mood in a way that so many discs of early music fail to achieve. The recording itself is first-rate, capturing the bell-like acoustic of St Egidien but never allowing the resonance to blur the fine details.
I cannot recommend this CD too highly. Frau Praetorius has established the music-making at the Egidienkirche as a real centre of excellence, and it is greatly to be hoped that this is not the only chance we have to hear music from her church's choirbooks.Read more ›