When Angels Make Music
Among many treasures, Freiburg cathedral contains the magnificent mausoleum of Prince-Elector Moritz of Saxony (1521-53). Thirty gold cherubs perched nearby represent celestial music. It was long assumed that the angels’ instruments were mere models, but in recent years it was realised that 21 instruments are gold-bronze-plated real instruments dating from the early 1590s. They remain in something like their original condition (apparently some are even playable). Meticulously prepared reconstructions of these instruments made at the University of Leipzig are here given a splendid test run by the specially assembled group Musica Freybergensis.
Disc 1 in this double set is an exploration of late Renaissance sacred music from Saxony, including a finely crafted Mass by the Dresden Kapellmeister Antonio Scandello (composed in memory of the Elector near whose tomb the musical angels play). The reconstructed shawms, cornetts, trombones, lutes and string instruments have an ideal expert director in Roland Wilson, and the richly textured and often peculiar sound of the instruments is compelling from start to finish. The six-voice consort sing with gentle compassion, although it is inevitable that the essential ingredient of interest is how the instruments sound. Most of the textures are surprisingly soft and tender. Disc 2 is a generous programme of secular (and mostly instrumental) music, covering a diverse range of sounds and moods from sensual plucked strings to spirited shawms. All involved deserve generous praise for carefully selecting music known at Dresden in the late 1500s. Raumklang’s beautifully recorded and lavishly illustrated project is an exemplary meeting of musicality and musicology.