Photo: Christopher J. Colson
For generations, the chorales of the Reformation have been at the heart of Lutheran musical tradition, spreading throughout Germany and Scandinavian countries, and inspiring composers for hundreds of years. From centuries old settings by Pedersøn, Praetorious, and Bach to later ones by Grieg, Mendelssohn, and Carl Nielsen, Protestant musicians keep returning to these same chorale tunes. Musik Ekklesia’s 2011 release on the Sono Luminus label, The Vanishing Nordic Chorale, highlights the Scandinavian tradition of the chorale across this continuum of time.
While the chorales themselves may be familiar, Musik Ekklesia delivers them with a taste of the unexpected. Psallite, a famous Praetorius Christmas song usually heard in German and Latin appears instead in Swedish, as found in a 1625 Finnish manuscript. Likewise, Bach’s cantata 137 is sung in Norwegian, and a 17th-century setting of “A Mighty fortress is our God,” by the Danish composer Mogens Pedersøn is also included. Another track in Danish has Musik Ekklesia performing a Bach ritornello paired with a chorale arranged from a set of Pachelbel organ variations.
Other selections on the disc explore a wide variety of instrumentation and imaginative arrangements which constantly pair the new with the old. In doing so, Musik Ekklesia brings the chorale full circle. And, as the improvisations by organist Bálint Karosi demonstrate, even in the 21st century, these chorales haven’t entirely vanished.