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*** "Lost Music of Early America: Music of the Moravians," Boston Baroque, Martin Pearlman, conductor. (Telarc)

October 25, 1998|Josef Woodard

If the names of the composers John Antes, Christian Gregor or Johann Friedrich Pieter don't ring a bell, have no fear about your musical scholarship. Their work forms part of the obscure American tradition of liturgical music written by and for the religious sect of the Moravians. In the great American tradition, the Moravians fled European intolerance for the New World, and there established themselves, mostly in Pennsylvania, around Bethlehem, and in North Carolina.

Music has played a strong role in Moravian worship, as attested to by the archives of more than 10,000 scores held by the Moravian Music Foundation, from which the material for this album came. Performed smartly here by Boston Baroque on period instruments, under Pearlman's direction, the collection includes the distinctive resonance of a trombone choir on two hymns, and the brittle-toned fortepiano on John Gambold's Rondo for piano. Much of the music, though, is scored for choir and soloists--sopranos Cyndia Sieden and Sharon Baker--in suites of short songs (there are 32 separate tracks on the CD) organized around the Moravian rituals called "Lovefeasts."

The music comports itself beautifully, paralleling musical manners from the Moravians' 18th century European homeland and earlier, often conveying a compelling directness--partly because the composers were ever aware of the limitations of their amateur performers. This is one of those projects that duly serves twin functions, celebrating a corner of American history and music that deserves wider recognition.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to four stars (excellent).

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