Choral Music Media Review Print



More Lovely 18th Century Moravian Music

June 29, 2012 - Williamsburg, MA:


He Restores My Soul; Moravian Sacred Vocal Duets; Julia Foster, soprano, Amanda Crider, mezzo-soprano, Bach Festival Chamber Orchestra of Winter Park, FL, John V. Sinclair, conductor; Moravian Music Foundation, © 2012, TT 66:15, $16.00, available from the Foundation.

This recording takes its title from the English translation of the title of the first work, a setting of Psalm 23:3, in this compilation of some 20 pieces by 9 different composers. They vary in length from just under one minute to 6:20, with the majority in the two- to four-minute range, and from short stand-alone pieces that might serve as introits to excerpts from longer works such as cantatas. Most are set to German texts, but two are in English. They are found in manuscripts and hymnals or music collections in various church repositories in America and Germany, and have been prepared in modern performance editions, many by Nora Reed Knouse, the Director of the Foundation and various collaborators. I reviewed a predecessor companion recording to this program about two years ago. Readers may find some of the background concerning this music there, and much of what I described as its salient features applies to this program as well. This CD includes a couple of the same composers, but most are different.

The texts range from a single verse from the Bible, or a pair of verses, sometimes consecutive, sometimes not, to compilations of several verses à la Handel's Messiah libretto, to originally written ones for anthems, hymns, or meditations. One is from a funeral cantata by Christian Ignatius Latrobe (1758-1836), an Englishman whose mother was American, who also studied and lived in Germany, that celebrates triumph over death, and is thus, in spite of its context, like most of the works: very upbeat and joyous, although a few are more serious in tone. This one is in German, but the two pieces in English are also by him. The composer most frequently represented (by six works) is Christian Gregor (1723-1801), who has been called the "father of Moravian music," because he introduced the use of concerted anthems and arias into the worship services, edited the hymnal of 1778 and the chorale book of 1784, and composed several hundred works. He was born in Silesia, became a church administrator and visited Pennsylvania and North Carolina in that capacity, and ended his days in Germany as a bishop. Others are represented by two or three pieces, but a few have only a single work in the program.

The voices of the soloists match and complement each other well, and blend beautifully, ethereally in some instances. The instrumental support is generally top notch. The pieces are not all alike, with both soloists singing all the time; some start out like a round, with the second coming in with the same melody a bit later than the first while others work more in a call and response form. Many, but not all, are built on an A-B-A structure, with a couple more A-B-C in shape. The selection and the performing order create a program that is quite varied, even if the music is generally in the standard late-18th century style of its time, and there is little evidence of experimentation or revolutionary invention.

The 8-page accompanying booklet uses every available inch of space to convey an incredible amount of information, including the texts and English translations of those in German, in a very fine print. There is a two-paragraph introduction about the church and the role of music in it, a section "About the Duets" (texts appear here), arranged in performance order (making it easy to follow along, unlike the previous issue), another "About the Composers" arranged in alphabetical order, and then "About the Performers," followed by information about the cover art works (one of which is the same as the cover of the previous CD's booklet in smaller size), a list of other recordings available, and concluding with a paragraph "About The Moravian Music Foundation" together with contact information. The track listing and timings are found only on the outside of the tray card; the total playing time is not given anywhere. Recording venue information and funding credits are tucked in on the bottom of page 7, after the bio of the conductor and before the list of orchestral personnel (essentially the same numbers and individuals as in the earlier recording, save for an additional second violin with all but one of the others replaced, and some turnover in the flute section) at the top of page 8, and technical credits (again the same individuals as the previous CD) follow this latter list immediately, making for a strange stew of unrelated information in an illogical order.

The CD and the music itself will obviously interest Moravians themselves, but it should also appeal to all believers who will feel the beauty and the fervor of the texts and the music and how naturally and well the latter supports the former. However, one does not need to be a believer to appreciate these features and the quality of their realization in these works. Lovers of J.S. Bach's cantatas and G. F. Handel's oratorios and operas will find much to admire and like here. Some of the tunes sound almost if they could have come from those sources.