Musik Ekklesia: The Vanishing Nordic Chorale
It’s well past time to listen to historical instruments because they’re, well, historical. Or “informed,” or “accurate,” or whatever word we might use to feel scholastically correct. It’s time to listen because they sound beautiful.
Musik Ekklesia, “music for the church,” is an Indiana-based Baroque ensemble led by bassist and violonist Philip Spray. He’s rounded up some of the top period-instrument players—including Stanley Ritchie, violin, Wendy Gillespie, viol, and Kathryn Montoya, oboe—for this sparkling CD of surprising chorale arrangements.
It’s immediately surprising because in addition to the expected chorale setters Praetorius, Scheidt, Crüger, and the later J.S. Bach, who should show up but 20th-century Carl Nielsen? There’s also Grieg, and Mendelssohn’s deeply felt Verleih uns Frieden (Now grant us peace, Lord, in these troubled times), sung in Danish (Forlen os freden, Herre, nu). The light sweep and brilliance of the older instruments bring out new colors, which ought to make Mendelssohn, that lover of old music, smile.
The Lutheran chorale began in Germany but quickly spread to Scandinavian and other countries. They added their own tunes to the repertoire, and emigre enclaves in the U.S. continued those traditions. Musik Ekklesia brings the music all the way to today. There’s some Christmas music here, and even a brand-new work, an improvisation by the Budapest-born Bálint Karosi, Music Director of the First Lutheran Church of Boston, performing on its new 27-stop North German Baroque-style organ.
The times and instruments and composers spin, making any putative correctness happily unnecessary. It just sounds beautiful.