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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Zwei Motetten, Opus 29 No. 2 (1860)
Fest- und Gedenkspruche, Opus 109 (1889)
Ave Maria, Opus 12 (1858)
Geistliches Lied, Opus 30 (1856)
Drei Motetten, Opus 110 (1889)
Zwei Motetten, Opus 74 No. 2 (1877)
Chorale Preludes (organ), Opus 122 Nos. 2, 4, 7, 8, 10 (1896)
Trinitatis Kantorai/Per Enevold
Inge Bínnerup (organ)
Recorded 2001-2, Kastelkirken and Trinitatis Kirke, Kíbenhavn
CLASSICO CLASSCD 439 [63.30]

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One of the most rewarding things about Brahms is how much wonderful music he wrote. As with any prolific composer, he is known by only a small proportion of his output, yet it seems that everything he wrote deserves the accolade 'masterpiece'. At any rate this imaginative programme exploring his sacred choral music, interspersed with some late organ preludes, extends our awareness of the Brahms repertoire and is a most rewarding disc.

The organ preludes are thoughtfully played by the Danish organist Inge Bínnerup, and they make an ideal foil to the sophisticated and varied choral textures which surround them. As such the programme works well as a quasi-concert experience, one item leading to the next with a pleasing shape and balance. These organ pieces are deeply thoughtful meditations, and prove just right in these sensitively recorded performances.

The sacred choral music receives the prime billing on the disc, and rightly so. For here are several masterly and substantial works, some a cappella, some accompanied by the organ. The Trinitatis Kantorai perform the music with dedication and distinction, and the acoustic is most pleasing. The recorded sound affords both atmosphere and detail, and there are many opportunities for the essential qualities of each piece to make their mark.

Brahms spent much of his career working with choral ensembles, and he first developed his relationship with Vienna from this connection. The works assembled here have many interesting relationships with the details of his life, and this adds to the value of the collection. For example the Fest- und Gedenkspruche (Festival and Memorial Sentences) were dedicated to the Mayor of Hamburg when Brahms was awarded the Freedom of the City in 1890. These three movements explore a wide expressive range and develop a nationalist theme, as if Brahms sought an opportunity to celebrate the achievement of a greater German state.

Brahms's motets are a particularly rewarding area of study. They vary considerable from one to another, for example, and this is reflected in this programme. Schaffe in mir Gott, Opus 29 No. 2 is a single movement of seven minutes duration, while Warum ist das Licht has four movements extending across some twelve minutes. The latter is a wonderful piece, and it receives a particularly pleasing performance here. It is also a reflection of the composer's reverence for his German predecessors, and inspired by the Lutheran tradition. The music reworks material from earlier in Brahms's career, and uses the choral groupings with much imagination, sometimes concentrating, for example, on the upper voices so that the basses can make a really rich effect in the closing statement, such as in the second movement, 'Let us lift up our hearts'. The final movement is a tribute to Bach, a subtle chorale in four parts.

While the performances and recording on this issue deserve high praise, the accompanying booklet and general presentation do not. For a start there is no clear listing of the items programmed. Rather the back of the disc has tiny while lettering on a purple and brown background, and there is also the problem of light reflection through the plastic case. Inside there are full texts and translations and some brief though useful notes, but again in tiny print. This small font size is the more galling because so much space is lost to pointless design features.

However, to concentrate on the inadequacies of printed presentation, at the expense of the excellence of the performances and recorded sound, is to put the cart before the horse. For this disc will give much pleasure and performs the worthy function of bringing some marvellous and little known music to a wider public.

Terry Barfoot



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