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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    



Josef Gabriel RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Der Stern von Bethlehem - Weihnachtskantate op. 164 (1890)
Rita Streich (sop)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (bar)
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Wolfgang Schubert
Bayerischen Rundfunks Symphonie-Orchester/Robert Heger
rec. München, 1968. ADD
CARUS 83.111 [47.42]

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This is a classic recording of a rare Christmas piece. Its origins are in the 1960s and an EMI Electrola session in Munich.

You are immediately aware of Rheinberger's almost nerveless, serene, undulating continuity of expression. Majesty too shines through these pages with the great choral cries at 5.45 and 6.10 leaving us in no doubt that the composer had hit a very strong vein of inspiration. Of course the idiom is late-romantic. Beyond that you can imagine a passionate and blessed land between say Wagner's Tannhäuser, Beethoven's Pastoral and Brahms' German Requiem. Streich is superb, almost childlike yet full of tone; not at all operatic. In fact her style is more liederabend than theatre; just as with Fischer-Dieskau. The engineers wrought a perfect full-throttle balance between Streich's voice and the starry powers of the massed choir. The Bavarian Radio choir are also good at the intimacy of the crib scene (tr. 5) with its glances towards Berlioz and his l’Enfance du Christe. This score is packed tight with eloquent, pungent and passionate writing distinguished by some meltingly lovely writing for the soloists (especially Streich), the radiant chorus, the harp (try tr. 8 Maria) and the woodwind. The high leaping melodic theme which weaves its delight throughout this work is perhaps part of the inspiration behind Othmar Schoeck's more intimate vocal style.

The sung text is printed in German and English although not side by side. There are extremely full notes in German and a much shorter though adequate text in English. The words of Stern are by the composer's wife Franziska who died seven days after its world premiere at the Dresden Kreuzkirche on 24 December. Rheinberger could never bring himself to hear the work again. It brought back memories that were too sorrowful to be supportable. Rheinberger himself died in his adopted home city of Munich on 25 November 1901. He first came to Munich in 1851 to study at the Conservatoire. After the Second World War his remains were exhumed from the Munich cemetery and returned to his native town of Vaduz in Liechtenstein where he had been born on 17 March 1839.

Notwithstanding the short playing time this work, rather like Cyril Rootham's Ode on the Morn of Christ's Nativity, is far too good to be heard only at Christmas.

Rob Barnett



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