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Sacred Choral Music - Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)

1. Salve Regina [4:12]
Missa in G
2. Kyrie [3:19]
3. Gloria [3:41]
4. Sanctus [2:25]
5. Benedictus [3:31]
6. Agnus Dei [4:59]
Soloists: Masako Goda, soprano; Gabriele Weinfurter, alto; Andreas Schulist, tenor.
7. Ave verum Corpus [2:08]
8. Exultate Deo [2:37]
4 Bußpsalmen
9. Timor et tremor [3:02]
10. Vinea me electa [3:44]
11. Tenebrae facta sunt [4:00]
12. Tristis est anima mea [3:04]
Soloist: Prisker Eser-Streit, soprano
Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902 -1986)

Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriennes
13. Ubi caritas [2:06]
14. Tota pulchra es [1:57]
15. Tu es Petrus [0:56]
16. Tantum ergo [2:56]
Ton de LEEUW (1926-1996)

17. Prière [9:02]
Olivier MESSIAEN (1908-1992)

O sacrum convivium [5:10]
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Peter Dijkstra
Rec. 16-20 July 2004, Bavaria Studio, Munich, Germany

The Chor des Bayersichen Rundfunks (Choir of the Bavarian Radio) has been around since 1946, and is widely regarded as one of the world’s finest small professional choirs. Its members have worked and recorded with great choral directors such as Eric Ericson (see the review of his recent recording with accentus, Naïve V5037-2) and with many of the world’s finest conductors, including their current principal conductor, Mariss Jansons. Amongst its number are many singers who enjoy flourishing solo careers of their own, and even find time to lounge about in the Maldives (sorry - private joke aimed at certain members of the alto and tenor sections).

On this latest CD they sing under a very young (28) Dutch maestro, Peter Dijkstra, who, judging by the stunning results, is one to watch. The programme consists entirely of unaccompanied French music, difficult, demanding stuff such as the Poulence Missa and Bußpsalmen (better known as ‘Four motets for a time of penitence’) and Messiaen’s O sacrum convivium.

Glorious music, gloriously sung. The Poulenc Mass is given the most wonderfully flexible and assured performance. It’s high point, indeed the high point for me of the whole CD, is the Agnus Dei (track 6). This is begun by the solo soprano (Masako Goda), unsupported by the choir, who, when they do enter, have to negotiate some extraordinary harmonic shifts (e.g. track 6, 4:00). Everything is achieved with such utter beauty of tone, making the final references to the close of Poulenc’s great opera, Dialogues des Carmélites, so very moving.

Everything is on this same exalted artistic level. The Duruflé motets, using plainsong melodies, are probably the simplest numbers on the disc, and the easiest to sing. But even they have their pitfalls, and are delivered with great sensitivity. And the immensely long drawn out phrases and enigmatic harmonies of Messiaen’s O sacrum convivium are conveyed with an effortless sense of understanding and an unerring sense of direction and purpose.

One work on the disc was entirely new to me, which was Ton de Leeuw’s striking Prière. Though perhaps not compositionally on the level of the rest of the music recorded here, this is nonetheless a powerful and arresting piece, and the choir’s French proves hard to fault.

This is a rare treat for lovers of choral music, and for lovers of French music too. Don’t be put off if the repertoire is unfamiliar to you, for this is music of great beauty; and sung like this, it is balm to the ear.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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