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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Es sungen drei Engel

Sieben geistliche Volkslieder [19:38]
Drei Choralbearbeitung für Weinnachten, Neujahr, Epiphanias, Op. 79g [6:46]
Zwölf deutsche geistliche Gesänge [40:41]
NDR Chor Hamburg/Hans-Christoph Rademann
Recorded in NDR Rolf-Liebermann-Studio, Hamburg, June 2003. DDD
CARUS 83.155 [67:08]

This CD will come as a revelation to anyone who regards Reger simply as a composer of dense, chromatic and complex music. I hadnít come across any of these pieces before and I must say I have found this a delightful disc.

In his useful notes Alexander Becker tells us that the two sets, Sieben geistliche Volkslieder and Zwölf deutsche geistliche Gesänge are companion works in many respects though the latter set features more adventurous and demanding part-writing. Reger wrote of them that these pieces would be "a capella setting(s), without chromaticism, (or) much use of modal writing." He added "I enjoy this Ďself-chastisementí very much."

It seems to me that Reger achieves a most successful balance between simplicity of utterance and saying something new about these traditional melodies. Thus, for example, in the Sieben geistliche Volkslieder the setting of O Jesulein suss (track 6) offers just that bit more harmonic richness than Bachís immortal harmonisation, yet Regerís version falls just as sympathetically and naturally on the ear. Earlier in the same set the piece from which the CD takes is title, Es sungen drei Engel is a charming, innocent piece.

The larger set of Zwölf deutsche geistliche Gesänge follows the churchís year to some extent. The first five are for Advent and Christmas, the next three cover the period from New Year to Easter. The remainder are settings of texts dealing with the themes of death and resurrection. Unfortunately, though the notes are supplied in English, French and German, only the German words are provided; so for non-German speakers there is something of a handicap to appreciation of any of the songs on the disc. These twelve songs are set in between five and eight parts whereas the companion collection is for SATB choir. The set of three pieces Op. 79g is for SSA voices. I havenít had access to any scores but even when the writing expands to the full eight parts it seems to me that Reger keeps the textures clear and does not suffocate the essentially simple basic melodic material.

Mind you, the credit for this clarity must be shared between Reger on the one hand and Hans-Christoph Rademann and his choir on the other. The singing on display here is absolutely first rate. I canít fault the choir on any aspect whatsoever. The balance is superb, dynamic control and contrast are most impressive, tuning is flawless so far as I can tell (I donít have perfect pitch) and the ensemble is crisp and accurate. Rademann has clearly prepared his singers excellently and this is as fine an example of choral singing as Iíve heard in a long time. The engineers deserve credit too for reproducing the choir in clear, natural sound.

This wouldnít be a disc to listen to all at once, I think. That said, Iíve enjoyed it enormously. Itís a charming and delightful collection, expertly performed. Since nearly half the items here have associations with the Christmas season this is a particularly appropriate time to recommend it, which I do with great enthusiasm.

John Quinn

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