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The 500th anniversary of the publication of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, which prompted the Lutheran Reformation, is celebrated by three interesting recordings, each of which has a different agenda.

The Vox Luminis recording, Ein feste Burg, is presented in a lavish book containing essays, pictures and interesting notes. The first CD is based on the liturgical year, including works by Scheidemann, Altenburg, Hammerschmidt, Praetorius, Scheidt, Schein and Melchior Franck in chorale-based pieces for each liturgical season. The second CD presents the foundations of the Lutheran liturgy: German Magnificat, Mass, Passion, and Requiem. The 15 singers of the choir are frequently divided up into groups and solo ensembles, and organ chorale fantasias are played on the modern Thomas organs, which sound rather tame.

In contrast, the 1517: Mitten im Leben CD expands the scope to include secular music by composers including Senfl, Neusidler, Brandt, Josquin and Lassus, as well as sacred music such as Johann Walter’s Beati immaculati in via, sung at Luther’s consecration of the court chapel at Torgau. The five-part ensemble of solo voices is accompanied by a renaissance broken consort. Sometimes the singing is intimate; at other times the homorous songs are caricatured boldly, to excellent effect. The enterprise is brought right up to date with imaginative contemporary arrangements of traditional Lutheran songs. Great fun.

The Luthers Lieder recording focuses on Luther’s poetry. The music is chorale-based, but the range of composers is enormous, including Johann Walter, Eccard, Scheidt, Schütz, Buxtehude, J.S. Bach, Mendelssohn, Reger, to contemporary composers Thomas Jennefelt and Stefan Vanselow. The project is a compilation by different choirs and orchestras, plus organ chorale preludes played at St Lorenz, Nuremberg on (I guess) a romantic organ (not described in the otherwise impressive booklet). Altogether a fine production, with some particularly magical singing and orchestral playing in the Mendelssohn pieces.

DAVID PONSFORD Read the full review on Agora Classica


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