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Hör, o Vater - Prayer in songs of the romantic era.
Josef RHEINBERGER (1839 – 1901)

Praeludium op. 156:1 from Zwölf charakteristische Tonstücke
Sechs religiöse Gesänge op. 157: (Sehet, weiche Liebe; Ich bin des Herrn!; Wenn Alle untrue warden; Vater unser; Nachtgebet; Ave Maria)
Introduction und Fuge from Orgelsonate Nr. 12 op. 154
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1841 – 1904)

Biblische Lieder op. 99: (Gott ist mein Hirte (No. 4); Hör, o Vater (No. 6); Singet ein neues Lied (No. 10))

Abendfriede op. 156:10 from Zwölf charakteristische Tonstücke
Pater noster qui es in coelis (gregorian chant)
Peter CORNELIUS (1824 – 1874)

Vater unser – Neun geistliche Lieder op. 2: (Vater unser, der du bist im Himmel; Geheiliget werde dein Name; Zu uns komme dein Reich; Die Wille geschehe; Unser täglich Brot gib uns heute; Vergib uns unsre Schuld; Also auch wir vergeben unsem Schuldigern; Führe uns nicht in Versuchung; Erlöse uns vom Übel)
Markus Lemke (bass-baritone), Thomas Berning (organ)
Recorded in May 2004 in St Gallus Church, Ladenburg, Germany
CHRISTOPHORUS CHE 0117-2 [69:48]

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Here is some really unusual music from the 19th century alongside some well-known pieces. Dvořák’s Biblical Songs op. 99 can be heard quite often, normally with piano accompaniment; there is also an orchestral version. Who made the organ accompaniments used here is not made clear in the booklet, but they do underline that the songs “belong in the church”. Dvořák, ever the great melodist, was really inspired when he wrote them during roughly the same period that also produced the “New World” symphony, the F major string quartet and the cello concerto. It is a pity that there was room only for three of them.

On the other hand I suppose that the main concern here was the other two composers, who both belong among the ranks of half-forgotten 19th century masters. Rheinberger’s organ music is of course heard now and then and Naxos are in the process of recording it with Wolfgang Rübsam; they have so far (April 2005) reached volume 5. The Six religious songs op. 157, written in 1888, are actually premiere recordings. The music is attractive without being especially memorable. My first impression was a certain dullness but a second hearing was much more positive. The Ave Maria could very well find a place in the standard repertoire.

It was also a good idea to intersperse the songs with some organ pieces from the same period. The Introduction and Fugue was a nice acquaintance, played here with real verve by Thomas Berning.

Peter Cornelius’s name has more or less faded away from the general music lover’s consciousness, although he was an important figure in his day. His comic opera, or Singspiel, "The Barber of Bagdad" was once frequently played and may still get an outing in Germany once in a while. There exist a couple of complete recordings, one from the 1950s with Leinsdorf conducting and a starry cast including Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Nicolai Gedda and Herrman Prey. Still performed are his Christmas Songs op 8, of which I have a lovely recording with Elly Ameling. These Nine sacred songs, forming a cycle entitled Vater unser, i.e. Our Father, are also "firsts". Compositionally they are interesting in that Cornelius uses the Gregorian Pater noster as the basic thematic material for the whole prayer. Here it is preceded with the Gregorian original sung unaccompanied. It is all interesting but to my mind not on a par with the aforementioned Christmas songs.

When it comes to the performances I do have several serious reservations. First of all the recording balance emphasizes the organ at the sacrifice of the singer. The recording was made in a church with long resonance and the singer is placed so that he sounds immersed in the organ sound, fighting a losing battle against the instrument. Markus Lemke, a name new to me, has a not inconsiderable bass-baritone voice, surprisingly tenoral at the top. He makes attempts to sing softly but is then mercilessly swamped by the organ. His basically beautiful voice is also used less than discriminatingly, producing sometimes raw fortes. There is also a tendency to lose pitch on sustained notes. As a matter of fact when I first played the disc through my ordinary loudspeakers I could hardly detect Lemke’s voice. It took some time before I understood that someone was singing behind the organ. Listening through headphones the voice came closer and I could appreciate the singing more but I also noticed the defects more clearly. Even then, though, the singer was all too often over-powered by the organ.

The organ is well reproduced on its own and the Introduction and Fugue is, as I have already mentioned, impressive. The booklet has a short essay in two languages (German and English) about the music, a few lines about the artists, a list of the organ stops and the sung texts in the original German (and in two cases Latin).

The disc as a whole gives some valuable additions to the sacred repertoire but, considering my reservations, it should be approached with caution. Try to listen before purchase. Your ears may be sharper than mine.

Göran Forsling

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