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Brilliant Classics

Anton BRUCKNER (1824 - 1896)

CD 1
Mass No.1 in D minor, for soloists, choir and orchestra (1864, rev. 1876, 1882)
Isabelle Müller-Kant (soprano)
Eibe Möhlmann (mezzo-soprano)
Daniel Sans (tenor)
Christof Fischesses (bass)
Chamber Choir of Europe
Württemburgische Philharmonic Reutlingen/Nicol Matt
Recorded 20-25 January 2003, Württemberg, Germany
CD 2
Te Deum in C major, for soloists, choir and orchestra (1884)
Psalm 150, for choir, soprano and orchestra (1892)
Mass No. 2 in E minor, for choir and wind orchestra (1866, rev. 1876, 1882, 1885, 1896)
Pamela Coburn (soprano)
Ingeborg Danz (alto)
Christian Elsner (tenor)
Franz-Josef Selig (bass)
Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart
Bach-Collegium Stuttgart/Helmuth Rilling
Recorded 7th-9th September 1996, Beethovensaal, Stuttgart, Germany
CD 3
Mass No. 3 in F minor, for soloists, choir and orchestra (1868, rev. 1876, 1877, 1881, 1893)
Verena Schweizer (soprano)
Elisabeth Glauser (alto)
Uwe Heilmann (tenor)
Matthias Goerne (baritone/bass)
Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart
Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart/Helmuth Rilling
Recorded December 1992, Süddeutscher Rundfunk, Stuttgart, Germany
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92002 [3CDs: 50.38+76.44+62.03]

Bruckner worshipped two main deities, the Roman Catholic Church and his older contemporary Richard Wagner. In Bruckner’s writing the spirit of Roman Catholicism finds exceptional musical expression rich both in intensity and sincerity. It manages to transcend its historical context finding relevance in an expressive, inspiring and edifying manner. The incredible impact of attending Wagner’s operas led Bruckner to compose orchestral and choral works with marked Wagnerian accents in harmonic language and orchestration generally on a colossal scale. Bruckner held no ambition for composing stage works, he preferred to contain the essence of the majesty and epic proportions of the Wagnerian music-drama in his symphonic writing. In the three Masses, the Psalm 150 and the Te Deum contained on this release we can hear the stylistic mannerisms influenced by Wagner.

Next to the symphony the Mass was the medium through which Bruckner communicated his love of God both with absolute integrity and pronounced directness. Bruckner composed the Mass No.1 in D minor, for soloists, choir and orchestra in 1864, two years before his first mature symphony in C major. Bruckner was rarely satisfied with his compositions and was always looking for improvement. He obsessively strove for perfection and consequently made revisions to the work in 1876 and 1882. The D minor Mass has never been as popular as the two that were to follow although it is a marvellous work. Evident everywhere is Bruckner’s contrapuntal skill revealing both a real uniqueness of harmonic thought and inventiveness and arguably his predisposition towards ambiguous tonalities. The D minor Mass has that intense seriousness of purpose that is so characteristic of the greatest Bruckner.

Brilliant Classics typically use previously released material, licensed from other labels, in their sets but appear to have produced this 2003 recording of the first Mass for themselves. The vocal and orchestral forces are in excellent form and seem particularly appropriate choices. Austrian Nicol Matt is in control of the proceedings conveying a powerful and expressive reading. The four soloists and the Chamber Choir of Europe, who were founded in 1998 as the Nordic Chamber Choir provide an inspiring blend of voices producing a fine quality of tone. The digital recorded sound is warm and clear.

Bruckner composed the Mass No. 2 in E minor, for choir and wind orchestra in 1866 making subsequent revisions in 1876, 1882, 1885 and 1896. The E minor Mass is certainly one of most original works which looks back in part to the devotional traditions of Italian Renaissance composer Palestrina and uses an unusual combination of eight-part chorus, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, four horns, two trumpets and three trombones, all without the inclusion of strings. German-born conductor Helmuth Rilling directs the choral forces of the Gächinger Kantorei and the instrumental ensemble Bach-Collegium with distinction. The reading gives a real sense of the composer’s religious devotion combined with Italian Renaissance polyphony and Brucknerian Romanticism. Rilling is not afraid to place elevated demands on his chorus who stimulate and impress in the considerable technical and artistic challenges. Recorded in 1996, the Hänssler engineers have provided a balanced and warm digital sound.

Bruckner was frequently discontented with his Mass No. 3 in F minor, for soloists, choir and orchestra that he composed in 1868, typically making revisions in 1876, 1877, 1881, 1893. The considerable structure and substance of the F minor Mass is the reason it become known as the ‘Grand Mass’. Acknowledged as Bruckner’s most complex and successful setting of the text of the traditional Latin Mass. Under the direction of Helmuth Rilling the four soloists, the Gächinger Kantorei choir and the Stuttgart Radio-Sinfonieorchester give an inspired and dazzling account of this major work. Rilling’s forces show an innate understanding of the epic dimensions and rapid mood changes throughout the F minor Mass, with vibrant and dramatic performances of superior quality. The recording released on Hänssler digital in 1992 sounds vivid and well-balanced.

The Te Deum in C major, for soloists, choir and orchestra composed by Bruckner in 1884 is a significant work lasting some twenty-five minutes and is divided into five sections. Bruckner expressed a wish on his deathbed that the Te Deum should be used as a replacement last movement finale to the ninth symphony in D minor that he knew he would never complete. The combination has never really caught on. Conductor Michael Tilson Thomas in 2003 resurrected Bruckner’s wish in his performances with the London Symphony Orchestra, segueing the end of the Adagio into the Te Deum. In this 1996 Hänssler recording the Gächinger Kantorei choir and the Bach Collegium orchestra under Helmuth Rilling bring out the real intensity of drama in the score assisted by fine recorded sound. The Psalm 150, for choir, soprano and orchestra that Bruckner composed in 1892 utilises the same forces as in the above Te Deum and the performance is equally as fine.

Brilliant Classics offer superb value in this well presented triple Bruckner box-set. Their ever expanding catalogue is a treasure trove of discoveries. The performances are very fine and at super-bargain price there is every reason to explore these dramatic and rewarding choral works. Recommended without reservation.

Michael Cookson

see also review by Robert Hugill


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