Luther Collage / Calmus Ensemble

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The 500th anniversary of the generally agreed beginning of the Reformation–when Martin Luther published his famous “disputations” (the Ninety-five Theses) in October, 1517–not surprisingly has sparked an outpouring of recordings focused not on the Reformation but on Luther’s justly famous chorales and the many settings and re-imaginings by numerous other composers, from the 16th century to the present. This program follows that line, except it doesn’t feature a choir, neither is there an organ or instrumental ensemble in sight.

Calmus is a vocal ensemble with one soprano and four guys who cover the rest of the parts (countertenor, tenor, baritone, bass). Together they take on everything from cantata movements by Bach, motets by numerous composers (from Praetorius and Schütz to Mendelssohn and Brahms), and even organ chorale preludes, the latter sung in a cool, sensuous Swingle Singers style, enlivened by impeccably tuned, complementary vocal timbres. Notable among these are a couple by Bach–BWV 599 and 659 (sound clip)–and several by Carl Piutti, a 19th-century German composer/organist, who wrote more than 200 organ preludes and did serious time at the Leipzig Thomaskirche, beginning in 1880.

Although this program is very thoughtfully based on Luther’s hymns–beginning with settings of the classic Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott and proceeding through Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, Christ lag in Todesbanden, and several others, all arranged in neatly flowing sections, following the church year from Advent through Pentecost, it’s really about excellent ensemble singing, the art of coordinating and balancing voices, developing and shaping musical interpretations, and using the unique aspects and qualities of the voice to illuminate and give life to words and music. And these singers demonstrate this at every turn and phrase, capturing the glory and grandeur of all manner of musical conceptions–and they do endings in a manner that makes you just want to savor every last note and chord.

It takes a very accomplished ensemble to successfully juxtapose so many styles and settings of these great hymns, and the Calmus Ensemble does it with world-class expertise and just the right amount of charm–yet I have to say, that although every one of these singers is excellent, soprano Anja Pöche, with her seemingly effortless technique and gorgeous sound (not to mention a true, untempered sense of intonation) is a particular treasure. Enthusiastically recommended.

– ClassicsToday (David Vernier)

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CV83478

  • UPC: 4009350834781

  • Label: Carus

  • Composer: Anonymous, Arvo Pärt, Balthasar Resinarius, Carl Piutti, Felix Mendelssohn, Guillaume Dufay, Heinrich Schütz, Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer, Johann Hermann Schein, Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Walter, Johannes Brahms, Johannes Eccard, Martin Luther, Max Reger, Michael Praetorius, Sethus Calvisius

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Calmus Ensemble

  • Performer: Ludwig Böhme