> Te Deum: Handel, Dvorak, Bruckner [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Sept 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Te Deum:
Georg Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)

Dettingen Te Deum

Dorothee Fries (soprano), Cäcilie Fuhs (soprano), Matthias Rexroth (alto), Thomas Cooley (tenor), Raimund Nolthe (bass)
Collegium Vocale des Bach-Chores Siegen
Trompeten-Consort Friedemann Immer
Barock Orchester Hannoveresche Hofkapelle/Ulrich Stützel
Rec 11-12 May 2001, Martinikirche zu Siegen
Antonín DVORÁK (1841-1904)

Te Deum

Michaela Kaune (soprano), Peter Mikulas (bass)
Gachinger Kantorei Stuttgart
Bach Collegium Stuttgart/Helmuth Rilling
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)

Te Deum
Psalm 150*

Pamela Coburn* (soprano), Ingeborg Danz (alto), Christian Elsner (tenor), Franz-Josef Selig (bass)
Gachinger Kantorei Stuttgart
Bach Collegium Stuttgart/Helmuth Rilling
Rec: 12-13 October 1997 (Dvořák), 9 September 1996 (Bruckner Te Deum), Liederhalle Stuttgart, Beethovensaal

12 September 1996 (Psalm 150), Stadthalle Sindelfingen
HÄNSSLER CLASSIC 98.421 [2CDs: 38.06+55.09]


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The idea of a collection of Te Deum recordings is an interesting one, though in this case the logic does not altogether hold up to closer scrutiny. The musical styles of Dvořák and Bruckner may be different, but their works were composed towards the end of the 19th century and neatly fill a CD of standard length. The masterpiece by Handel, the Dettingen Te Deum, is equally typical of the composer's mature style, which of course is musically very different indeed from those of Bruckner and Dvořák. What is more this CD plays for only 38 minutes. Better surely to issue the two discs separately and to add something else by Handel to make up a full length CD.

That point made, these performances hold plenty of interest, not least that of the Handel. It is also the most recent recording, having been made in 2001, and the sound is very good. The performance is musically stylish, with pert rhythms and well chosen tempi. The ensemble is well balanced and instrumental lines are mostly clear, whether in accompaniment or in the purely orchestral sections. There is, for example, a really telling 'Symphony' at tempo Adagio (track 10), and this and the slower choral movements are most sensitively and expressively shaped by Ulrich Stützel.

However, this is a celebratory composition above all other considerations, since it was written for the official thanksgiving service to acknowledge the victory of the Anglo-Austrian armies over the French at Dettingen. This performance took place at the Chapel Royal in November 1743, sung in English. The German chorus copes with the text well enough, setting their stall with a lively and bouncing opening Allegro, replete with resounding fanfares.

The solo singers are nationally rather than internationally known, but they work well as a team, and are good individually too. I am not absolutely taken with the tone of the alto voice of Matthias Rexroth, but he does sing with sensitivity. Although this recording does not obscure memories of Simon Preston's excellent performance with the English Concert (on Archiv), it is most enjoyable.

The Dvořák performance, which opens disc 2, is rather less satisfactory. To some extent that is because the opening, with its pounding timpani rhythm, fails to catch fire, which is a real missed opportunity. The recorded sound is pallid and lacks bite, and the same can be said of the performance, which could be tighter rhythmically. When the chorus joins with the first line of the Te Deum, there is at least more resonance, but the damage is already done. The strongest aspects of the performance are the more lyrical moments, generally involving the solo singers, Michaela Kaune and Peter Mikulas, who acquit themselves well. Rilling is generally a fine conductor of the choral repertoire, but this performance of one of Dvořák's least known masterworks is a disappointment.

The Bruckner Te Deum is another matter. The musical momentum is committed from the outset, and there is great intensity in tutti passages. Add to that a strong sense of teamwork among the four soloists, along with keen orchestral playing and choral singing, and here is a performance to treasure (all of which makes the Dvořák experience harder to fathom).

The Te Deum is the most important choral work of Bruckner's Vienna years. He conceived the idea of writing it following the performance of his Fourth Symphony in the spring of 1881, but the actual period of composition came more than two years later, from September 1883 until the following March.

The music has all the ingredients of Bruckner's unique personality: masterly choral writing, strongly individual construction, and intensity of religious commitment. Rilling's skill in controlling his choral-orchestral forces is matched by his sensitivity in matters of phrasing and tempo. He is supported by a recording which, while by no means in the demonstration class, allows details to be heard and climaxes to make their mark.

It was an enterprising and imaginative idea to add Psalm 150 to the Te Deum programme. This is a most interesting piece, since it was the master's final choral composition, on which he worked alongside the great Ninth Symphony during the early 1890s. The insert booklet contains not only full texts and translations, but also some detailed introductions to the music. This is valuable in the case of Psalm 150, which as so often in Bruckner's experience, received a cool reception at its Viennese premiere. It seems that other performances, in Dresden (1893) and Chemnitz (1896) were more immediately successful.

The mood of Psalm 150 is not unlike that of the Te Deum: triumphant exaltation is very much the order of the day. There is only one soloist, however, and Pamela Coburn is on top form. The music suits Rilling rather well. His handling of the complex fugue, with which the work concludes, is particularly assured. One can understand how Bruckner was able to claim that the music was 'charged with the grandeur of God'.

Terry Barfoot

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