JOHANNES ECCARD: Mass for Five Parts; Motets and Canticles – Norddeutscher Kammerchor/ Maria Jugensen, conductor – MD&G Multichannel SACD (2+2+2) 902 1694, 57:09 [Distr. by E1] ****:
Eccard (153-1611) is a name known to me, though his music has been absent from my ears until now. Perhaps it was reading any number of Brahms biographies that mentioned the great composer’s Hamburg choruses used to sing Eccard’s music that brings him to mind, I am not certain. At any rate, acquaintance with this man’s music and more specifically this disc in particular is recommended with some urgency to anyone who loves great liturgical music. In this case you have a rather ecumenical choice; even though Eccard was a Protestant for most of his life, his musical and career aspirations took him to the courts of Bavaria and Augsburg, and the latter enjoyed the performance of his only mass. The work is of the parody variety, using Orlande de Lassus’s chanson Mon coeur se recommande a vous as its basis. The work is calming, beautiful, and extremely unified on the parody theme.
But the real gems on this disc are the fourteen motets and canticles. Eccard had a real genius in the creation of these pieces. His primary interest, as reflected in his many choral religious songs, is in melody, and he found a way to create complex and varied choral pieces that never lose their sense of tune, making the pieces perfect for local congregations and choral societies. Many of them are hybridized in their use of Renaissance technique coupled with folk elements and the highest liturgical sensibilities.
MD&G has given the North German Chamber Choir the ultimate in perfectly reverberant surround sound, and the voices are presented in an affecting and effective manner that allows the blended sonorities to come through with powerful force and much presence. This is another one of those sleeper discs—don’t miss it!
— Steven Ritter