MELCHIOR FRANCK: Penitential Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, 143 – Weser-Renaissance Bremen/ Manfred Cordes, conductor – CPO Multichannel SACD 777 181-2, 58:07 **** [Distr. by Naxos]:

As early as the sixth century the seven penitential psalms were being prescribed for the Lenten period in the Western Church. There are over 20 compositions from the late 16th century alone, perhaps the most famous being that of Orlando di Lasso. Here we have the opportunity to sample the work of Melchior Franck, born in 1579 in Zittau, a friend of Hassler (perhaps his first teacher), and who worked in the court of the Duke Johann Casimir of Saxe-Coburg, who was an enormous patron of the arts.

These pieces, though in Latin, were written for Protestant services, and in his time Franck was known as second only to Michael Praetorius in his rampant ability to produce so much work. This recording purports to produce these pieces for the first time in 400 years. Most of them are six-voice motets (20 of them), the longer texts being associated with a close one-word-to-a-note homophonic style, with the shorter texts falling back on the older and more familiar counterpoint-laden style. The music is quite beautiful, the instrumentation chosen well (a gamba consort, as no information is given in the manuscript of what should be used—typical for the time), and the singers are first-class. CPO’s sonic spread in surround is nicely balanced with warm, comforting sound most apropos for this type of Lenten devotion. If it appeals, be assured of a first-rate program.

— Steven Ritter