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Clytus GOTTWALD (b. 1925):
Choral Transcriptions
Hector BERLIOZ (1803-1869) Sur le lagunes [6.09]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937) Soupir [4.14]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918) Les Angelus [2.52]; Des pas sur la neige [4.23]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886) Zwei Lieder [4.41]
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903) Vier Lieder [10.04]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) Zwei Studien zu “Tristan und Isolde” [13.32]
Alban BERG (1885-1935) Der Nachtigal [2.52]
Anton WEBERN (1883-1945) Vier Fruhe Lieder [8.08]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911) Drei Lieder [17.59]
KammerChor Saarbrücken/Georg Grün
rec. 13 Nov 2004, 4-7 Feb 2005, Funkhaus Halberg, Saarbrücken
CARUS 83.182 [74.55]


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The art of transcription was a particularly 19th century affair with many composers, from Liszt onwards, re-creating standard repertory items on the piano. With the coming of recording the art of transcription rather faded, but a few composers such as Busoni, Grainger and Ronald Stevenson kept the flame live.

By transcription I mean the re-creating in one medium of music written for another. This art requires that the composer stay true to the original piece but create a piece which is truly idiomatic for the new medium: just think of Liszt’s version of the quartet from ‘Rigoletto’.

Generally the art of transcription is performed on the piano, but this disc contains a group of magical transcriptions for choir. The disc describes them as choral arrangements by Clytus Gottwald, but they are real transcriptions. In each, Gottwald has re-created the original music in a new choral guise, many written for sixteen part choir.

Gottwald’s handling of his choral forces should come as no surprise. He is a distinguished choral trainer and founded the Stuttgart Schola Cantorum in 1960 and conducted it until 1990.

In his booklet notes, Gottwald describes how during a workshop with Pierre Boulez, Gottwald conceived the idea of transcribing Soupir from Ravel’s Trois Poèmes de Stéphane Mallarmé for voices utilising the technique for writing for voices that Ligeti used in Lux aeterna. This was the first in what has become a fascinating sequence of works.

Some pieces sound relatively straightforward, such as Berlioz’s Sur les lagunes but even this uses a sixteen part choir, so I suspect that things are not quite as simple as they seem underneath. Judging by his booklet notes, Gottwald has quite a technical attitude to re-creating instrumental sounds in voices. He explains about his use of overtones, undertones and sub-harmonics. This may or may not be of interest to the listener; all that really need concern us is the magical nature of the resulting pieces.

Regarding the texts, Gottwald is similarly imaginative. His transcription of Debussy’s Des pas sur la neige from the 1st volume of Preludes uses a French poem by Rilke along with stray lines by Mallarmé. For Wolf’s Auf ein altes Bild the archaic-sounding piano accompaniment is transcribed with the text of a medieval Marian hymn and the hymn Vexilla regis. For Wolf’s Der Gartner the piano accompaniment is constructed as an inner monologue between the gardener and the princess using a collage of stock phrases from Romantic poetry.

All the pieces on this disc are entrancing but the Wagner and the Mahler pieces particularly struck me. Perhaps because Gottwald has been truly effective at transferring the romantic orchestra onto the choir. Both Wagner transcriptions from Tristan und Isolde create a truly distinctive Wagnerian atmosphere. The disc closes with Gottwald’s transcription of Mahler’s Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen, a profoundly moving song given a deeply lovely new guise.

The performances by the KammerChor Saabrücken under Georg Grün are excellent. The choir excels at rendering Gottwald’s lovely textures without seeming too effortful. Judging by the photo in the CD booklet the choir must be around forty to fifty strong, but split into sixteen parts means that these pieces can still be quite taxing. Also, Gottwald uses the singers’ vocal range to its utmost with some soaring soprano vocal lines. Only rarely does the performance slip; the choir’s performances usually sound almost effortless.

I can recommend this disc to anyone who loves choral music; these pieces take a group of well-known pieces and re-create them in a magical choral world.

Robert Hugill




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