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Franz Peter SCHUBERT (1797-1828)
Choral Music
CD1: Sacred choral music
CD2: Secular choral music
CD3: Famous works for male chorus
see end of review for details
rec. venue and dates not provided. DDD
PHOENIX EDITION 408 [3 CDs: 65:02 + 55:45 + 57:39]
Experience Classicsonline


I feel a deep affection for the choral music of Schubert both the secular and especially the sacred. In my region of north-west England in the last two years I have attended concerts given by three visiting German cathedral choirs. Only last week I heard the outstanding youth choir of Braunschweig Cathedral directed by Domkantor Gerd-Peter Münden and Kantorin Elke Lindemann performing choral works by Brahms, Rheinberger, Telemann, Mendelssohn, Schütz, Schumann, Schein and Kirnberger. Typically there was nothing at all from Schubert’s pen. I’m not suggesting that this is anywhere near being a representative sample but this is more verification of Schubert’s choral music being out of favour. Schubert’s choral scores have been overshadowed by the popularity of works such as his Unfinished’, GreatC major, lieder, chamber music and solo piano works.

Going some way towards redressing the balance this is a welcome and quite splendid reissue. The first volume is Sacred Choral Music, the second Secular Choral Music and the third is what I translate as Famous Works for Male Chorus. When Delta-Music GmbH went out of business the German classical music label Capriccio, part of their group of companies, had to follow too. Former Capriccio artistic director Johannes Kernmayer has founded the newly launched record company Phoenix Edition and is busy re-licensing from the liquidators what he can from the Capriccio back catalogue. 

CD1
Geistliche Chormusik (Sacred Music).
The first volume of the set is titled Geistliche Chormusik (Sacred Music). Schubert is not especially well known for his liturgical works. He did however produce sacred works consistently throughout his career, writing his first Mass in F major when he was seventeen and his last Mass No. 6 in E flat major in 1828, just a few months before his death.

Some of Schubert’s early sacred pieces, which were very much influenced by Haydn, were performed at his local church but few of the later works were performed during his lifetime. Schubert’s relationship with the Roman Catholic Church was a turbulent one. At times he found it hard to accept what he saw as the harsh and dogmatic aspects of the Catholic Church, often challenging the established views of the church. In addition some of his sacred scores ran into trouble with Church authorities for inconsistencies in the word settings. Schubert never did set the words ‘I believe in one Catholic and Apostolic Church’ a text that was virtually obligatory. Nevertheless, there are some wonderful settings amongst his six numbered Masses especially the monumental Mass No. 6 in E flat major, D950. There is also the popular Deutsche Messe, D872 and the incomplete Cantata: Lazarus, D689 a score considered years ahead of its time. Several of the shorter works are miniature gems that deserve a wider circulation namely: the Stabat mater, D175 and D383, Magnificat, D.486, Psalm 23, D706, Salve Regina, D379, D386, D676 and D811, Tantum ergo, D461, D739, D750 and D962, and Offertorium, D963.

This first volume comprises a selection of twelve of Schubert’s shorter liturgical pieces with none of the 6 numbered Masses. The highlight of these scores is the opening work the suitably reverent Offertory Intende voci orationis meae in B flat major for tenor, chorus and orchestra, D963 from 1828. At just over nine minutes this is the longest work on the disc and displays Schubert’s interesting use of woodwind. The featured tenor voice of Peter Schreier is in fine condition and at times reminded me of the quality of Peter Pears in his full vocal maturity.  

The stirring Magnificat in C major, D486 from 1816 is splendidly performed with such vigour and expression by the quartet of soloists soprano Celina Lindsley; alto/contralto Gabriele Schreckenbach, tenor Werner Hollweg and bass Walton Grönroos. The RIAS-Kammerchor and the Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchestra, Berlin under Marcus Creed are on splendid form throughout.  

It is hard to believe that Schubert wrote this beatific setting of the well-beloved Psalm 23, Gott ist mein Hirt (The Lord is my Shepherd), Op. posth, D706 to serve as an examination piece. Composed in 1820 at the request of Schubert’s friend Anna Fröhlich, the score was evidently a test piece for her vocal pupils. Scored here for two sopranos, two contraltos and piano Psalm 23 is one of Schubert’s few sacred scores that became staples of the repertoire; especially the version for women’s chorus with piano accompaniment. The exquisite harmonies of the piano prelude played by Bernd Casper, the magical entry of the voices and the smooth writing for the female vocal quartet of sopranos Brigitte Domhardt and Karin Pohl, and contraltos Astrid Pilzecker and Claudia Graswurm, who sing so affectingly make it easy to understand the popularity of the work.

Schubert’s world-famous setting of Ave Maria - this is a certainly a work that has indelibly made its mark on the repertoire. The score was composed around 1825 in devotion to the Virgin Mary. Using a German text Helmut Froschauer directs the Wiener Sängerknaben and the Kölner Rundfunkorchester with considerable care and attention. Soloist alto David Cordier is in glorious voice with noticeably firm production and clear diction.

The movement Zum Sanctus: Heilig, heilig is taken from the highly appealing Deutsche Masse (German Mass) D872. Completed in 1827 the nine movement Mass was designed to be within the scope of church congregations without formal training. The singing from the RIAS-Kammerchor is outstanding especially their unity of ensemble. The choir are ably supported by the Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin under Marcus Creed’s direction. 

Last year Capriccio issued a splendid single SACD disc of Sacred Music that is virtually identical to the contents of volume one of this triple Phoenix Edition set (see review).

Probably the finest collection of Schubert’s Sacred Choral Works is contained on an outstandingly performed and recorded 7 disc box set for EMI conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch and the Bavarian Radio Chorus and Orchestra. The 35 sacred scores were recorded in 1977 and 1979/83 at the Munich Herkulessaal for EMI Classics 5 86011 2. Sawallisch’s impressive list of performers include the following: Peter Schreier (tenor); Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone); Helen Donath (soprano); Lucia Popp (soprano); Brigitte Fassbaender (mezzo) and Adolf Dallapozza (tenor). Details of this set are contained in the footnotes to this review.

CD2 Weltliche Chormusik (Secular Choral Music)
Schubert was a prolific writer in the field of secular part-songs and choruses. They became an established feature at events such as the Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde in Vienna. Some of the scores would also be included at Schubertiades - salon parties of Schubert’s music. Schubert’s secular choral scores have certainly been overshadowed by the immense popularity of his Lieder; a far more practical and cost-effective proposition to produce.  
I particularly enjoyed the 1827 version of Ständchen (Serenade) in the version for contralto, male choir and piano, D920. In this nocturne set to a Franz Grillparzer text contralto Astrid Pilzecker displays impressive vocal control with a highly appealing timbre. The Männerchor des Rundfunkchores Berlin with pianist Bernd Casper are strongly supportive. 
A neglected masterpiece is the Gesang der Geister über den Wassern (Song of the Spirits above the Water), D714. Schubert’s setting of Goethes pantheistic poem is scored for male choir and low strings. Strong and darkly eloquent performances from the Männerchor des Rundfunkchores Berlin and a string section from Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchestra, Berlin combine to provide a highpoint of the set. 

Another of my favourite works is the superb version of Gott in der natur (God in Nature) in the arrangement for female chorus and piano, D757 was completed by Schubert in 1822. The prominent piano part reminds me of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle which Schubert predates in this score by over forty years. The Frauenchor des Rundfunkchors Berlin directed by Dietrich Knothe give a radiant performance splendidly accompanied by Bernd Casper.

CD3 Berühmte Männerchöre (Famous Works for Male Chorus)
Of Schubert's part-songs/choruses around two-thirds are scored for male chorus. This is a reflection of the social order of the day in Vienna and surrounding areas I guess. I estimate that about twenty percent of the part-songs/choruses are for mixed chorus; women’s voices account for around six scores. The rest are scored for unison or unspecified choral forces. Some of the works for male chorus are rousing drinking songs mainly from Schubert’s youth. These carry titles such as Wein und Liebe (Wine and Love), Trinklied (Drinking song) and Punschlied (Punch song).

One of my favourite scores on the disc was Der Gondelfahrer (The Gondolier) for male chorus and piano, D809. Schubert completed the work in 1824 to a Johann Mayrhofer text. In this performance from the Männerchor des Rundfunkchores Berlin under the direction of Dietrich Knothe it is not difficult to visualise a nocturnal scene with a gondolier gently stroking his craft forward on a sleepy Venetian lagoon - a gentle rocking to the sound of the chimes of St. Mark’s basilica.

Completed 1826 Nachthelle (Light at Night) is an impressive setting of a Johann Seidl text in dialogue form for tenor solo, male chorus and piano. Ekkehard Wagner in the tenor part is a thoughtful interpreter supported by the again impressive Männerchor des Rundfunkchores Berlin. The passionate intensity of the central section of the score is a highlight. I love the piano accompaniment from Bernd Casper - it conveys an ethereal quality.  
It is thought that Friedrich Wilhelm Krummacher was the author of the text to Die Nacht (The Night). Schubert made his setting for male chorus around 1822. With this moving singing from the Männerchor des Rundfunkchores under Dietrich Knothe I was struck by the vivid imagery aided by an interpretation evocative of the shimmering and alluring beauty of the calm night.

Another outstanding disc of Schubert secular choral music worth considering is from the RIAS-Kammerchor directed by Marcus Creed for Harmonia Mundi. Titled Nachtgesang (Night Song) the disc contains eleven scores, six of which are duplicated on two of the Phoenix Edition volumes Weltliche Chormusik (Secular Choral Music) and the Berühmte Männerchöre (Famous Works for Male Chorus). Marcus Creed recorded that disc at the Kammermusiksaal of the Berlin Philharmonie in 1997/9. It is on Harmonia Mundi HMC 901669.

Now the grumbles. Phoenix Edition has provided no information whatsoever about when and where in Germany the scores were originally recorded for Capriccio. They all seem to be modern digital recordings. The sound quality across all three volumes is very natural with an excellent balance. The liner-notes present difficulties as the information is difficult to follow and lacking in any real detail. For example no information is provided about the scoring and a few of the parts are uncredited. Information about the recording venues and dates is not given. The essay in the booklet is one of the most ineffectual I have seen and to add to the disappointment there are no texts. Using my best endeavours I have translated the titles into English from Google searches. However, if we ignore the flawed presentation congratulations are still in order.

The performances across all three volumes of the set invite considerable praise. When combined with the integrity of Schubert’s choral music and the splendid sound quality this is a most desirable release.

Michael Cookson

Details
CD1
Geistliche Chormusik (Sacred Music)
1. Offertory Intende voci in B flat major for tenor, chorus and orchestra, D.963 (1828) [9:25]
2. Magnificat in C major for soloists, chorus, orchestra, D.486 (1816) [2:52]
3. Ave Maria for male alto soloist, chorus and orchestra [5:52]
4. Tantum ergo in E flat major for soloists, chorus and orchestra, D.962 (1828) [5:34]
5. Salve Regina in B flat major for tenor soloist and orchestra, D.106 (1814) [4:48]
6. Psalm 23 ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ for 2 sopranos and 2 contraltos and piano, Op. Posth. D.706 (1820) [5:07]
7. Stabat Mater in G minor for chorus and orchestra, D.175 (1815) [6:55]
8. Offertory: Totus in corde langueo in C major for soprano soloist and orchestra, Op.46, D.136 (1815) [5:07]
9. Salve Regina in B flat major for chorus, D.386 (1816) [2:50]
10. Tantum ergo in C major for chorus, orchestra and organ, D.739 (1828) [5:34]
11. Heilig, heilig ist der Herr: Zum Sanctus from Deutsche Masse (German Mass) for chorus and orchestra, D 872 (c.1827) [3:05]
12. Christ ist Erstanden, Chor der Engel (Angel’s Chorus), for chorus and orchestra, D.440 (1816) [3:37]
Rundfunkchor Berlin (1, 4, 12)
Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchestra, Berlin (1, 2, 4, 5, 7, 8, 11)
Dietrich Knothe (director) (1, 5, 8, 12)
RIAS-Kammerchor (2, 7, 11)
Marcus Creed (director) (2, 7, 11)
Wiener Sängerknaben (3)
Kölner Rundfunkorchester (3)
Helmut Froschauer (director) (3)
Regensburger Domspatzen (9)
Roland Büchner (director) (9)
Wiener Akademie (10)
Hugo-Distler Chor (10)
Martin Haselböck (director) (10)
Celina Lindsley (soprano) (2)
Peter Schreier (tenor) (1, 5)
Celina Lindsley (soprano) (2)
Gabriele Schreckenbach (alto/contralto) (2)
Werner Hollweg (tenor) (2)
Walton Gronroos (bass) (2)
David Cordier (alto) (3)
Gisela Fetting (soprano) (4)
Astrid Pilzecker (contralto) (4, 6)
Ekkehard Wagner (tenor) (4)
KarlHeinz Schmieder (bass) (4)
Dietrich Knothe (director) (4)
Brigitte Domhardt (soprano) (6),
Claudia Graswurm (alto) (6)
Karin Pohl (soprano) (6)
Magdalena Hajossyova (soprano) (8)
Bernd Casper (piano) (6) 

CD2
Weltliche Chormusik (Secular Choral Music)
1. Standchen for contralto, male chorus and piano (1827 version), Op. Posth 135, D. 920 [5:51]
2. Hirtenchor (Shepherd's Chorus) for SATB choir and orchestra from Rosamunde, D. 797 [4:15]
3. Die Geselligkeit for chorus and piano, D. 609, ‘Lebenslust’ [3:36]
4. Gesang der Geister uber den Wassern for male chorus and orchestra, Op. 167, D. 714 [9:50]
5. An die Sonne for chorus and piano, D. 439 [5:59]
6. Jagerchor (Huntsmen's Chorus) from Rosamunde for chorus and orchestra, D. 797 [2:03]
7. Sehnsucht (Nur wer die Sehnsucht kennt) for male chorus, D. 656 [4:08]
8. Der Tanz for chorus and piano, D 826 [1:40]
9. Heiter strahlt der Morgen, from Der vierjahrige Posten for chorus and orchestra, D. 190 [3:38]
10. Gott in der Natur for female chorus and piano, Op. Posth. 133, D. 757 (1822) [5:23]
11. Geisterchor (Spectres' Chorus) from Rosamunde for male chorus and orchestra, D. 797 [2:40]
12. Die Allmacht for choir and piano, D. 875 [6:19]
Männerchor des Rundfunkchores Berlin (1, 4, 7)
Mitglieder des Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchestra, Berlin (4)
WDR Rundfunkchor Köln (2, 6, 11)
WDR Rundfunkorchester Köln (2, 6, 11)
Helmut Froschauer (director) (2, 6, 11)
Berliner Solisten (3, 5, 12)
Bernd Casper (piano) (1, 3, 5, 10, 12)
Chorus Musicus Köln (9)
Das Neue Orchestra (9)
Christoph Spering (director) (9)
Frauenchor Des Rundfunkchors Berlin (10)
Dietrich Knothe (director) (4, 7, 10)
Astrid Pilzecker (contralto) (1)

CD3
Berühmte Männerchöre (Famous works for Male Chorus)
1. Das Dorfchen for male chorus and piano, Op. 11, 1 D 598 (1817) [4:27]
2. Der Lindenbaum from Winterreise cycle for male chorus, (1827) [2:40]
3. Nachtgesang im Walde for male chorus and 4 horns, Op. Posth. 139 D 913 [5:33]
4. Der Gondelfahrer for male chorus and piano, Op. 28, D 809 (1824) [2:48]
5. Wein und Liebe for male chorus, D 901 [2:12]
6. Trinklied for baritone(?) soloist, male chorus and piano, Op. Posth, No2, D148 [2:57]
7. Wehmut, ‘Die Abendglocke tönet’ for male chorus
from 3 Gesänge für vier Männerstimmen, Op. 64/1, D 825 [5:56]
8. Widerspruch for male chorus and piano, Op. 105, D 865 [2:36]
9. Nachthelle for tenor solo, male chorus and piano, Op. Posth, 134, D 892 [6:11]
10. Fruhlingsgesang (Spring song) male chorus and guitar, Op. 16/1, D 740 [4:00]
11. Nächtliches Ständchen for male chorus, D 635 [4:49]
12. Jagdlied for male chorus and horn quartet, D 521 [1:29]
13. Die Nachtigall quartet for male chorus with guitar, Op. 11/2, D 724 [4:15]
14. Lied im Freien for male chorus, D 572 [4:01]
15. Die Nacht for male chorus, Op. 17/4 D 983c [3:04]

Männerchor des Rundfunkchores Berlin (1, 3, 4, 6, 9, 15)
Dietrich Knothe (director) (1, 3, 4, 6, 15)
Männerchor des Rundfunkchores, Leipzig (2, 7)
Jörg-Peter Weigle (director) (2, 7)
Männerchor des Kölner Rundfunkchores (8, 10, 12, 13, 14)
Hornquartett des Kölner Rundfunkorchesters (12)
Heinz Walter Florin (piano) (8)
Berliner Männerchor ‘Carl Maria Von Weber’ (5, 11)
Andreas Wiedemann (director) (5, 11)
Helmut Froschauer (director) (8, 10, 12, 13, 14)
Bernd Casper (piano) (1, 4, 6, 9)
Ekkehard Wagner (tenor) (9)
Michael Tröster (guitar) (10, 13)
Gerhard Mayer (French horn) (3)
Wolfgang Stahl (French horn) (3)
Dieter Fökel (French horn) (3)
Michael Schöppe (French horn) (3)  

Footnotes:
Schubert Sacred Choral Works - Wolfgang Sawallisch - Conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch and the Bavarian Radio Chorus and Orchestra on EMI Classics 5 86011 2.
Kyrie in B flat major, D 45; Kyrie in D minor, D 49; Mass no 1 in F major, D 105; Mass no 2 in G major, D 167; Kyrie in D minor, D. 31; Kyrie in F major, D. 66; Salve regina in B flat major, D 106; Offertory in C major, D 136/Op. 46 "Totus in corde langueo"; Stabat Mater in G minor, D 175; Offertory in A minor, D 181 "Tres sunt"; Benedictus es, Domine in C major, D 184/Op. 150; Salve regina in F major, D 223/Op. 47; Tantum Ergo in C major, D 461; Tantum Ergo in C major, D 460; Magnificat in C major, D 486; Auguste jam coelestium, D 488; Mass no 3 in B flat major, D 324/Op. 141; German Salve regina in F major, D 379; Stabat mater in F major/minor, D 383; Salve regina in B flat major, D 386; Salve regina in A major, D 676/Op. 153; Antiphons (6) for Palm Sunday, D 696/Op. 113, 23,  
D 706/Op. 132; Tantum Ergo in C major, D 739/Op 45; Tantum Ergo in C major, D 750; Salve regina in C major, D 811/Op. 149; German Mass in F major, D 872; Psalm 92, D 953; Hymnus an den Heiligen Geist, D 948b/Op. 154; Mass no 5 in A flat major, D 678; Mass no 4 in C major, D 452/Op. 48; Lazarus, D 689; Mass no 6 in E flat major, D 950; Tantum ergo in E flat major, D 962 and Offertory in B flat major, D 963 "Intende voci". 

 
 


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