Review by: David Vernier
Artistic Quality: 9
Sound Quality: 9
As we near the end of the “Luther” year, during which there have been many recordings released to commemorate the beginning of the Reformation in 1517, this one is especially worth noting for its smart programing and exceptional singing from Graham Ross and the Choir of Clare College. Rather than another compilation of Luther hymns and arrangements based on the tunes, this program is centered on the broader range of music created for the Protestant church, music whose existence was a result of the Reformation and the liturgies, services, and church festivals that followed.
We do get Luther’s famous Ein feste Burg, followed by Bach’s sublime cantata based on the tune, but then we pretty much leave Luther, moving on to Johann Cruger’s Nun danket alle Gott, and then to the second of Bach’s great Reformation cantatas, Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild (BWV 79). Mendelssohn’s chorale-based cantata Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten is one of his better works in the genre, its most engaging movement being the only one that, curiously, has nothing to do with the chorale: Er kennt die rechten Freudenstunden, for soprano solo. I’ve been unsuccessful in finding an explanation for Mendelssohn’s inclusion of this lovely, entirely original outlier movement, but it has an intriguing similarity to a hymn tune written two centuries later, known as Abbot’s Leigh. Whatever the nature of its existence, soprano Mary Bevan sings it beautifully.
Brahms’ motet Warum ist das Licht gegeben?, with connections both to Bach (musical) and to Luther (textual), is a highlight, owing to the expressive nuances Ross and his choir demonstrate throughout, followed by a straightforward rendition of William Croft’s O God, our help in ages past, a rousing tune that returns in glorious fashion in the disc’s final work, Vaughan Williams’ Lord, Thou hast been our refuge. This is a continuously exciting and moving celebration that should not be missed, a fitting tribute to Luther and to the musical legacy of the Reformation.
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Recording Details:Album Title: REFORMATION 1517-2017
MARTIN LUTHER: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott; Mit Freud und Freud ich fahr dahin
JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH: Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott BWV 80; Gott der Herr ist Sonn und Schild BWV 79
JOHANN CRUGER: Nun danket alle Gott
GEORG NEUMARK: Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten
FELIX MENDELSSOHN: Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten MVW A7
JOHANNES BRAHMS: Warum ist das Licht gegeben?
WILLIAM CROFT: O God, our help in ages past
RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Lord, thou hast been our refuge