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Abendlied: 19th-century Romantic German part-songs and motets
Josef RHEINBERGER (1839-1901) Abendlied [2:52]
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897) Warum ist das Licht gegeben [9:20]; Geistliches Lied [4:52] *
Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Sechs Sprüche, Op 79 (1841) [11:20]:
Weihnachten (Christmas) ; Am Neujahrstage (New Year's Day); Am Himmelfahrtstage (Ascension Day); In der Passionszeit (Passiontide); Im Advent (Advent); Am Charfreitage (Whitsunday)
Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Christus factus est [5:20]; Ave Maria [3:09]
Max REGER (1873-1916) Drei sechsstimme Chöre, Op 39 [13:36]:
Schweigen (Silence); Abendlied (Evening song); Frühlingsblick (Springtime)
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883) An Webers Grabe [4:02]
Hugo WOLF (1860-1903) Sechs geistliche Lieder (1881) [13:50]:
Aufblick (Looking Upwards); Einklang (Harmony); Resignation (Resignation); Letzte Bitte (Last Prayer); Ergebung (Submission); Erhebung (Exaltation)
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949) Der Abend (1897) [10:36] **
The Rodolfus Choir/Ralph Allwood and Ben Parry **
Tom Winpenny (organ) *
rec. Eton College Chapel, December 2002. DDD.
HERALD HAVPCD 289 [79:40]



I doubt if many people have ever thought of part-songs as being revelatory, but this generously filled disc could well prove exactly that for several listeners. Romantic symphonies, opera, lieder, absolute or programme music – these are all well known and much loved musical disciplines covered by the composers included here, yet the part-song remains unjustly neglected.

Many of the composers here are noted for their settings of religious texts or for personal strength of faith (Brahms, Bruckner, Mendelssohn), others less so (Reger, Wagner, Wolf and Strauss), yet each brings to their setting a deep sense of personal commitment, whether the words be religious or poetic. Each work here takes its place in a firmly established tradition that is particular to German and Austrian composers. A concern with the specific qualities of evening time as expressed through music can only be something that the Romantic sensibility could have responded to. In the twentieth century the a capella partsong tradition continued through composers as diverse as Pfitzner and Schoenberg, though shaded by an entirely different feeling and response.

Josef Rheinberger, a fine if almost forgotten composer today and one much revered by von Bülow, sets the mood with ample feeling. In both Brahms works one can feel the hand that set Ein Deutsches Requiem at work, and particularly in Warum ist das Licht gegeben which sets words from Job, Lamentations and James alongside those of Martin Luther, though elsewhere his love of Palestrina-inspired counterpoint flows freely.

Mendelssohn and Wolf form an effective balance for each other in many ways, not just in their setting of six texts each. Mendelssohn’s are overtly religious, Wolf’s more worldly and reflective of his deep instability that remains never far from the surface of his music. Wagner, the source some might say of Wolf’s condition, penned the work for Weber’s graveside, where he himself conducted it. It is a mixture of reverence, feeling, through a slightly veiled emotion. I am again left thinking whether Wagner had Weber’s memory entirely in mind or was it his own personal reputation. Only the words set by a youthful Strauss (Schiller) seem at a slight discord with the other poets present (Plinke, Falke, Lenau and Eichendorff). Schiller strains to be a truly German poet when heard against the natural flow of the others. Strauss’s setting though is assured for a young man, as indeed are Bruckner’s, benefiting as they do from considered wisdom deployed with skilful feeling.

The singing is of distinctive refinement being well paced and blended with evenness throughout all the parts. The basses are supple, tenors not over-bright, altos rich-toned, and sopranos float their lines with melting ease. The recording too is beautifully atmospheric, try – just one example I could point to – Schweigen from Reger’s Drei sechsstimme Chöre, Op 39, where a hushed calm is caught in the slightly reverberant though appropriately church-like acoustic of Eton College Chapel. And some people think Reger a dry and impersonal composer – here he comes across as anything but.

Lydia Smallwood’s accompanying notes succinctly and informatively link the composers and their respective interests in choral writing. Full texts and translations are downloadable as a PDF file from Herald’s website.

Most strongly recommended.

Evan Dickerson

see also Review by John Quinn





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