Christ­mas Ves­pers: Mu­sic of Michael Prae­to­rius (Avie)

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One of the great names of the early Baroque, the Ger­man com­poser Michael Prae­to­rius (1571-1621) was a con­tem­po­rary of Clau­dio Mon­teverdi’s, the Ital­ian who set the bar for the mu­si­cal avant-garde of that time. The con­duc­tor Jeanette Sor­rell, who com­piled th­ese Christ­mas Ves­pers from as­sorted Prae­to­rius col­lec­tions, writes in her liner notes that his mu­sic “com­bines the drama and vir­tu­os­ity of some­thing like the Mon­teverdi Ves­pers, with the sim­ple and ac­ces­si­ble tra­di­tions of Lutheran hymn-tunes that many Protes­tants know by heart.” The record­ing was made 10 years ago at a se­ries of live per­for­mances in Cleve­land, but it has just now been re­leased on CD. It’s an ex­cit­ing, en­velop­ing ex­pe­ri­ence. At the heart of the ac­tion is Apollo’s Fire/The Cleve­land Baroque Orchestra, the pe­riod-in­stru­ment ensem­ble Sor­rell founded and di­rects from the harp­si­chord. Its work is top-drawer through­out and down­right stun­ning in its brass play­ing. Sev­eral choirs of pro­fes­sional adults and ac­com­plished young­sters lend kalei­do­scopic sonic va­ri­ety, singing mostly in Ger­man but some­times in English. Prae­to­rius never seems to get quite the credit he de­serves; apart from his in­stru­men­tal suites drawn from his Terp­si­chore (a de­light­ful one is in­cluded here), his ma­jor choral col­lec­tions are recorded only piece­meal. This in­vig­o­rat­ing al­bum in­cludes some of his bet­ter-known set­tings of the fa­mil­iar chorales “Wa­chet auf” and “In dulci ju­bilo,” along with nu­mer­ous jewels that tend to go over­looked. — James M. Keller

Christ­mas in Reno is a dark ex­er­cise in hol­i­day hope­less­ness.

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