CD Review: Praetorius Christmette.Christmas Mass



Praetorius  Christmette . Christmas Mass,  Gabrieli Consort and  Players, Paul McCreesh, conductor. Deutsches Grammophon Archiv 449 1757


If the credits on this CD sounds familiar it could because Deutsches Grammophon Archiv  have this Christmas, re-released this disc which was made in 1994. Nearly 20 years after its first hearing, this recording of Michael Praetorius’ Christmas Mass as reconstructed by Paul McCreesh remains an impeccably researched and performed realisation of what a Christmas Mass might have sounded like in early 17th century central Europe. 

The Gabrieli Consort and Players were just 12 years into their story when they made this disc.  Numerous recordings later and in the light of so much more research into historical performance practice, this interpretation stands as a testament to the integrity of the musical reconstruction and its delivery.

Paul McCreesh, is today acknowledged as an expert in Renaissance and early Baroque music.  He formed the Gabrieli Consort and Players in 1982 having made his directing debut at London’s St John’s Smith Square just a year earlier.  McCreesh’s broader aims were to recreate the original liturgical context of 17th century sacred music, its performance conditions and its role in the society at the time. Michael Praetorius was a German composer, organist and theorist, born in 1571 near Eisenach. He died in 1621 in the Lower Saxon town of WolfenbÜttel where he had lived since the early 1590s. Despite his early death, Praetorius’ output was prolific with the number of sacred compositions numbering more than 1000.

McCreesh’s reconstructed  Praetorius’ Christmas Mass based on the Lutheran Mass as described in the WolfenbÜttel Church Order of 1569. McCreesh has retained the broad outline of the Mass  but extended it by adding movements before, within and following the 5 core movements. Opening with a Processional based on a melody by Martin Luther, and an Introit,  the additional movements include organ preludes, Communion motets and a Gradual hymn. McCreesh worked on the assumption that “all available forced would take part in the Christmas Day service” – choirs from schools and church, community, council and court musicians.

Adding to the 20 voices of the Gabrieli Consort, McCreesh has recruited the Boys’ Choir and the augmented Congregational Choir of Roskilde Cathedral, a Lutheran cathedral in Denmark,  where the recording was made. The Gabrieli players perform on a joyful band of authentic instruments, amongst them,  crumhorns, shawms, strings, recorders, period keyboards, drums and of course, organ.

McCreesh musical sources include Praetorius’ own Missa Sioniae of 1607, and traditional hymns  – the Lutheran  Von Himmel  hoch da komm ich her, Nicolai’s Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstenrn, and another Praetorius composition Quem pastores laudaver.

There is a splendid range of emotion from the straightforward delivery of Von Himmel  hoch da komm ich her, the hushed reverence of Uns ist ein Kindlein heut geborn and the unfettered joy of the concluding chorus, In dulci jubilo.

The accompanying booklet has comprehensive notes and the full text.

A treat for lovers of sacred choral music – especially those who like their music delivered in purist style.

Shamistha de Soysa for SoundsLikeSydney© 

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