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Two New Luther CDs (Well Three Actually!)

Writing in Forbes on 25 January 2017, Jens F. Laurson recommended the soon-to-be-released Martin Luther Soundtrack as the Classical CD Of The Week.

“1517. 500 Years of Reformation, as measured by the publishing of Luther’s 95 theses, celebrates one of the most important events of modern Western history that can be conveniently pinned (as it were) to a single event. Luther 2017 is accordingly a big event in German lands and beyond. The occasion has its own logo, walking paths have been established (so you can hit all the important sites on foot and not get lost), and press junkets organised. I’ve written about them in Listen Magazine in 2013, ‘Wagner The Revolutionary,’ and 2015, ‘Eat, Pray, Listen.’ I even have my own 500-Years-of-Reformation Martin Luther Playmobil action figure!

Of course there will be music to serve the purpose as well. Two such releases explicitly so, very recently, both on the Carus label.

• One, Luther Collage contains seven Luther Hymns in various arrangements and adaptations through the ages.

The hymns and hymn-arrangements – from Luther and his contemporary Stephan Mahu to Max Reger and Arvo Pärt – are beautifully recorded in Leipzig’s St. Thomas cathedral and delivered by the Calmus Ensemble with the finest, most nuanced precision, discreet and restrained and relying on profundity for its effect. Charitably encountered, that effect should be be inevitable – and hearing the interspersed chorale preludes (Bach and otherwise) in acapella arrangements sent showers of goosebumps and gentle shivers up and down my spine.

• The other, In the Midst of Life • 1517, even more ambitiously, tries to capture the spirit of the time and translate it for modern ears. The result is a deeply moving and equally entertaining 80 minute assemblage of music from around that time, with original instruments and a C21st century spirit that sparkles with wit and liveliness in a few contemporary arrangements that are strewn into the mix – jazzy, if necessary: A look at 1517 from today must necessarily contain a good deal of 2017 – and the same Calmus Ensemble and Wolfgang Katschner’s Lautten Compagney (thankfully) don’t wish to pretend otherwise.

The sacred shares its time and space with a majority of secular songs; faith and the everyday, religion and the mundane rub shoulders casually, naturally. Senfl, Luther, traditional songs, Josquin Desprez, Orlando di Lasso et al. are present – and Bach makes a cameo when his chorale “Nun ruhen alle Wälder” is juxtaposed and interpolated – with tear-jerking tenderness – with Heinrich Isaac’s “Innsbruck, I Must Leave You”, upon which it is based. Beautiful!”

Then There Were Three

An important fact (of which Jens F. Laurson and Forbes were unaware) is that the Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster also has plans to release a CD of Reformation Hymns, including several penned by Martin Luther, at Easter. Choirs are currently being trained by Rev. Ryan McKee (Magherafelt) to this end. This is one to keep your eye out for in this little corner of Europe!

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