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Josef Gabriel RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Vom Goldenen Horn Op.182 (1895) [30.38]
Liebesgarten Op.80 (1874) [13.55]
In Sturm und Frieden Op.170 (1892) [23.18]
Silke Schwarz (soprano)
Christine Müller (alto)
Hans Jörg Mammel (tenor)
Markus Volpert (bass)
Chia Chou (piano)
Freiburger Vokalensemble/Wolfgang Schäffer
Recorded at SWR Studio, Karlsruhe, February 2005
CARUS 83.177 [68.05]

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Faced as we are now with a glut of Rheinberger – organ sonatas and concertos once more in the ascendant but with the violin and organ works not so far behind – it’s still unusual to come across examples of his secular choral music. The sacred music has for some time taken its place in the German repertory but the so-called Turkish Singspiel Vom Goldenen Horn will be unheard by all but the most diehard Rheinberger admirer. Based on texts by the folk singer Assim Agha Gül-hanendé this 1895 work calls for four solo voices, choir and piano accompaniment. Its descriptive title as a ‘Singspiel’ is doubtless a none-too-oblique reference to Schumann’s mid-century ‘Spanisches Liederspiel’ Op.74 - which also presented a series of lieder for solo voices while advancing a story-line.

The thing that will immediately strike you is how un-Turkish this Turkish Singspiel is. Long gone are the days of Mozart and followers like Witt who would festoon their music with percussion and piccolo in imitation of "Turkish" sonority. Rheinberger’s tribute is an altogether more clement and unoriental one, belonging firmly to the central European tradition. There are no passing allusions either, which makes for a cohesive setting, albeit one that tends to lack a certain drama. There are nine lieder playing for a good half hour. The watchwords are warmth and a certain limited ardour as the love story evolves; thankfully the solo voices are suitably bright and youthful. The music ethos is High Romantic, not Brahmsian for the main part though there are maybe hints of Rheinberger’s great contemporary in the sixth song, Perle. Otherwise the greatest impression is that made by Schumann. Perhaps an even greater impression could have been gained had the studio recording not tended to a degree of chilly clarity; the accompanying piano sounds rather too distant and the lack of resonance militates against the full warmth of the music-making. Nevertheless this is a rare opportunity to get to grips with his less easily available secular choral music and adherents won’t spurn the chance.

Coupled with Vom Goldenen Horn are two other much shorter works. Liebesgarten is sung a capella and is devoted to the beauties of nature. It’s a lightly, fulsome work with generous overlapping lines for the choral forces and some folk-like warmth along the way. I was especially taken by the fourth of the five settings, where the composer’s characteristic generosity of long lyrical lines is most evident. The much later In Sturm und Frieden is in effect a reminiscence of the earlier nature cycle. There’s remarkably little difference in tone and texture between them despite the fact that it was written eighteen years later and is almost contemporary with Vom Goldenen Horn. Still, Rheinberger can write storm music with the best of them and the lightly flecked folk depiction of the sixth setting, Guter Rat is characterful. Rather too often there’s a slightly becalmed, samey approach to word setting but in the main it’s a successful setting if not an especially inspiring one.

The studio acoustic is rather unhelpful, especially in these nature settings, but the forces manage to breach this limitation well enough. This is a different look at Rheinberger, especially to those familiar with his more popular works. The triptych offers pleasurable, if not always exciting, listening.

Jonathan Woolf

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