This imaginatively compiled collection explores
some really interesting byways of the Brahms catalogue, but it
is not all that it seems. The issue is that much of the music
cannot in truth be called 'profane choral works', as the title
details tell us. There are the delightful Gesänge for women's
chorus, with two horns and harp, and other pieces for mixed voices,
but the remaining items are better described as profane vocal
chamber works. Having made the point there is no need to labour
it, however, since the repertoire featured remains of the highest
quality, though little known, while the performances are of the
Those early gesänge were written before
Brahms left Hamburg for Vienna. For several years he conducted
the Hamburg Women's Chorus, and he therefore wrote music for them.
The four pieces are in three parts and set various writers, including
Shakespeare (Twelfth Night). The instrumental combination of two
horns and harp is so particular that it affects the music very
strongly; one wonders whether the opening poem by Ruperti, 'The
rich tones of the harp resound', set the composer's imagination
working. The music is sensitive and the more interesting for it.
The restrained dynamics are beautifully delivered by the Trinitatis
Singers, their wistful quality caught by the recorded perspective
At the other end of Brahms's career lie the six
Quartets, Opus 112. These are separated in the programme, and
reasonably so, since the first two are set to texts by Franz Kugler
while the remaining four are what the composer described as 'gypsy
songs'. The collection must have been made for the convenience
of publication, though some artists might choose to perform the
complete group of six, so that the directness of the last four
will clear away the introspective doubts of the first two. Since
the Trinitatis group choose to avoid that path, it would be wrong
to reprogramme their performances, and it is only fair to judge
the pieces separately and on their own terms, not least because
they are so pleasing. In fact the gypsy numbers go with such a
swing that the virtuoso approach brings out the best in this aspect
of Brahms's musical personality.
The five Gesänge, Opus 104, are unaccompanied
and for mixed chorus, the composer's last secular choral works.
The imageries tend towards the autumnal, and as such are typical
of Brahms's later years. Therefore the vocal delivery must be
subtle rather than forthright, a challenge the Trinitatis Kantorei
meet with distinction. These pieces are every bit as important
to an understanding of the composer's final years as, say, the
late piano pieces or the Clarinet Quintet, and these performers
are splendid advocates.
There are full texts and translations in the
well produced booklet, though some of them are rendered difficult
to read by the choice of grey shading on half the paper (what
purpose does this serve?).
The individual items, taken from larger collections,
complete an interesting and varied collection. With good, well-balanced,
sound these performances make up an unusual and distinctive programme
that serves this great composer well.
see also Brahms