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'.