Christmas Vespers: Music of Michael Praetorius (Avie)
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.