> Brahms - Mendelssohn [TB]: Classical CD Reviews- Jun2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Alto Rhapsody, Opus 53
Festive and Memorial Verses, Opus 109
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)

Three Motets:
Jauchzet dem Herrn
Richte mich Gott (Psalm 43)
Denn er hat seinen Engeln befohlen
Pamela Coburn (soprano); Lioba Brawn (mezzo soprano); Deon van der Welt (tenor)
Windsbacker Knabenchor
Austro-Hungarian Philharmonic Orchestra
Friedemann Winklhofer (organ)
Karl-Friedrich Beringer
Recorded 20-14 July 1996, Kirche St Gumbertus,


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This disc is a reissue of 1996 performances which made more headway on the continental mainland than in the UK. The repertoire is interesting and finds each of these great composers at the height of his powers. Yet only one of the works featured here - the Alto Rhapsody of Brahms - is at all well known.

So far so good, and a warm welcome. But before the accolades carry us away, there are two distinct disadvantages. First there is Hänssler's ill-conceived policy of not issuing texts, translations or background notes with their budget-priced issues. Instead they offer a time-consuming 'free download' of the booklet 'in several languages', but of course in an A4 format which is therefore difficult to store. Just as obvious a drawback is the playing time of less than 38 minutes. It seems scarcely possible these days that a major company can so readily shoot itself in the foot. Who except the most die-hard collector is going to buy a CD containing only half as much music as it might?

Having made these observations, which I am afraid do register uppermost in my mind, on to the performances. They are rather good. Lioba Brawn is a rich toned soloist in the Alto Rhapsody, which is atmospherically paced by the conductor, Karl-Friedrich Beringer. The recording is very lively, with plenty of atmosphere but an indulgent closeness which makes everything seem larger than life.

The Festive and Memorial Verses represent a further example of the large repertoire Brahms created for mixed voices. We should not forget that his attraction to Vienna involved his awareness of the choral tradition in the city, in particular the Singverein. However, this particular composition of his later years harks back in many ways to the city of his youth: Hamburg. In May 1889 the city fathers there acknowledged Brahms's achievement with the award of honorary citizenship, and his creative response with appropriate dedication was this composition for unaccompanied voices, the Festive and Memorial Verses.

The music has real gravitas, and a telling sense of occasion. Brahms wrote wonderfully well for ensemble voices, and these performers do justice to his vision. The recorded sound is atmospheric too; it is just a pity that accessing the text is so difficult, and downright impossible for anyone without the Internet.

The more one knows of Mendelssohn, the higher one's opinion of his music. Like Brahms he spent much time and effort on choral music, both as composer and conductor. These three motets for various unaccompanied choral groupings are particularly well written and have abundant textural subtleties. The performances are carefully prepared and appropriately responsive, and the recording has a pleasing ambience and balance.

Terry Barfoot

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