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Abendlied - 19th-century Romantic German part-songs and motets
Josef RHEINBERGER Abendlied [2’52"]
Johannes BRAHMS Warum ist das Licht gegben [9’20"]
Felix MENDELSSOHN Sechs Sprüche, Op. 79 [10’59"]
Anton BRUCKNER Christus factus est [5’20"]; Ave Maria [3’09"]
Johannes BRAHMS Geistliches Lied** [4’52"]
Max REGER Drei sechsstimme Chöre, Op. 39 [13’24"]
Richard WAGNER An Webers Grabe [4’02"]
Hugo WOLF Sechs geistliches Lieder [13’29"]
Richard STRAUSS Der Abend* [10’36"]
Rodolfus Choir/Ralph Allwood and *Ben Parry
** Tom Wimpenny (organ)
Recorded in Eton College Chapel in December 2002 DDD
HERALD HAVPCD 289 [79’40"]


Each summer, in a most imaginative scheme, the major English public school, Eton College, hosts a series of summer schools for pupils of other schools - usually those attending state rather than public schools - who are about to apply for university places. The basic premise is that the pupils concerned will already be highly accomplished academically and will benefit from a couple of weeks of intensive tuition in their preferred subject. The courses offered encompass a wide range of subjects and one of them is the Eton Choral Course, which is directed by Ralph Allwood, an outstanding choral trainer, who is Precentor and Director of Music at Eton College.

The Rodolfus Choir is a handpicked group drawn from past and present members of the Eton Choral Course so I suppose it’s the crème de la crème. This choir of some forty young singers give concerts, broadcast and make recordings. I’ve already heard several of their discs, all of which have impressed me greatly, as does this latest one.

The pieces by Brahms and Bruckner that are included in this fascinating programme were already familiar to me. They are done extremely well. Bruckner’s demanding Christus factus est is delivered with superb control while Ave Maria is no less impressive. Brahms’ strong and deeply felt motet, Warum ist das Licht gegben, is very well handled. The repeated interjections of the word ‘Warum’ punctuate the piece arrestingly, as they should, and Allwood shapes the performance with great understanding.

The Strauss setting, with which the programme concludes, is another piece that I’ve heard several times. The composer’s huge and rich Deutsche Motette (1913) is, perhaps, the apotheosis of the tradition that is celebrated by this CD. Der Abend (1897), which is offered here, is a shorter and less expansive piece but it still presents fearsome difficulties to choir and conductor alike, not the least of which is the division into no less than 16 separate vocal parts. The music is founded in glorious autumnal textures. Once again, the Rodolfus Choir displays first-rate control and discipline and the purity of the top sopranos and the strength of the basses are noteworthy, the more so since this is a choir of young singers.

The rest of the programme is uncharted territory as far as I’m concerned and here I must mention my one quibble about this release. There is a fascinating essay about the music by David Goode - though I had to look hard to find out who was the author - but sadly Herald has joined the ranks of the record companies that make texts and translations available only as a download from their website. I’m sorry, but I just don’t think this is acceptable, especially not for full-priced CDs. In the first place it’s not as convenient and secondly not everyone can access the Internet. One simply cannot appreciate vocal music properly without access to the words and it’s particularly galling not to have the words when one is dealing with music that is unfamiliar, as I imagine much of this programme will be for many listeners. In my view Herald have compromised the enterprise of this programme through this omission.

The item by Wagner is a curiosity. It was written (for four-part male voice choir) on the occasion of the re-interment of the ashes of Weber at Dresden in 1844. Frankly, it’s of little intrinsic musical interest but I’m glad to have heard it. The Mendelssohn pieces, six little motets written to be sung at services on specific feast days after the reading of the Epistle are also fairly slight compositions. However, they’re all finely crafted and they make very pleasant listening. The fresh singing of the Rodolfus Choir makes the best possible case for them.

Of much greater substance are the three pieces for six-part choir, written by Reger in 1899. These are chromatic and rich in texture. Under Ralph Allwood’s discerning control the singers keep the textures light and their singing is committed and full of light and shade. They do well also in the six Eichendorff settings by Hugo Wolf, which date from 1881. I particularly enjoyed ‘Resignation’, the third of the set, which is quite lovely, and also the simple and direct ‘Letzte Bitte’ (‘Last Prayer’), which follows it.

This is a lovely disc. The singing of the choir gives consistent pleasure. Their dynamic control is very impressive and they keep the textures clear, something that must be far from easy in some of these pieces. Their enthusiasm and commitment are evident throughout and that, as much as their technical accomplishment, is in itself the best possible tribute to the training they have received from Ralph Allwood. They are clearly and sympathetically recorded.

Despite the issue of the texts - about which other listeners may not get as hot under the collar as I do! - this is a highly recommendable recital, which I enjoyed very much.

John Quinn


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