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Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Liebeslieder Walzer (Love Song Waltzes), 18 songs for chorus 4 part voices and piano 4-hands, Op. 52, No. 1-18 (1868-69)
details at bottom of review
Gächinger Kantorei/Helmuth Rilling
Martin Galling (piano)
Michael Leuschner (piano)
rec. April 1977, Stuttgart, Germany. ADD. 24 bit/96 kHz remastering.
ARTS ARCHIVE 43126-2 [67:10]

"Music must never be comfortable, never muse-like, never soothing. It must stir, must touch people personally, make them stop and think." Helmuth Rilling

The Arts label was created in 1993 and is based in Reisen, Germany. Since then Arts have issued over 400 titles of classical music in various genres, from medieval to contemporary, and from the greatest artists of the last decades to promising young artists just starting out on their careers. This new release on their Archive series contains legendary remastered studio recordings, made in Stuttgart in 1977, of four sets of Brahmsís finest secular choral works from the great Stuttgart-born choral specialist Helmuth Rilling and his award-winning ensemble the Gächinger Kantorei.

Brahms is universally acknowledged as one of the greatest composers although a significant amount of his output remains in the background. His most popular scores, such as: the 4 Symphonies; the Violin Concerto; the 2 Piano Concertos; the Haydn Variations for Orchestra, Op. 56a; the Hungarian Dances for Orchestra; the Academic Festival Overture, Op. 80; the Tragic Overture, Op. 81 and a large body of chamber music dominate the catalogues. Consequently Brahmsís high quality choral music has been overshadowed and largely ignored as demonstrated by the small amount of concert performances and the frequency of deletions from the CD catalogue. Secular choral music composed by Brahms and his contemporaries and fellow countrymen Schubert, Schumann, Mendelssohn et al remains unfashionable and has been so for several decades. The large body of choral music from the influential principals of the English choral tradition, Stanford and Parry have also suffered the same fate.

Brahmsís choral compositions, at their best, are remarkable and for the most part remain unknown by the average listener leaving a considerable treasure trove of precious gems to be unearthed. It is very rare to come across performances of Brahmsís high quality choral scores such as: the Begrabnisgesang (Funeral hymn), Op. 13; the Geistliches Lied, Op.30; Rinaldo, Op. 50; the Triumphlied (Song of Triumph), Op 55; the Schicksalslied (Song of Fate), Op. 54; Nänie, Op. 82; Gesang der Parzen (Song of the fates), Op. 89; Vier ernste Gesänge (four Serious Songs), Op. 121 and the Missa Canonica (1856Ė7). There are some exceptions and fortunately there have been numerous recording of Brahmsís Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 52 and the Neue Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 65 made over the years but far fewer actual performances.

In recent years the tide seems to be turning back in favour of recordings of Romantic secular and sacred choral music. In the last couple of years or so there have been several welcome new Brahms choral cycles released, in particular from Chandos; ClassicO; Hyperion; Harmonia Mundi and Brilliant Classics labels. This Arts Archive reissue of these remastered 1977 Stuttgart recordings of Brahms choral works from Gächinger Kantorei under Helmuth Rilling are excellent examples of the composer at this most vibrant and captivating.

Throughout Brahmsís career choral works, both sacred and secular, were tremendously popular throughout Europe. He developed this interest in choral music when in 1859 he co-formed and became music director and conductor of the Hamburger Frauenchor, a womanís choir numbering some forty voices, an association that was to last until 1862. This experience undoubtedly stimulated him to write for choral forces which he continued to do productively throughout the rest of his life.

The sets of Liebeslieder Walzer and Neue Liebeslieder Walzer that Brahms wrote between 1868-74 are substantial collections of short waltzes. They are in fact love songs for vocal quartet or choir. The four hand piano accompaniment is designed to serve as an equal relationship with the choir. The 18 songs of the first set Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 52 from 1868-69 are presented as vivacious pieces on the subject of love written closely on texts by Georg Friedrich Daumer the German poet and philosopher. Five years later in 1874 the second group of 15 songs entitled Neue Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 65 are very different in mood. In these settings from Georg Friedrich Daumer and Johann Wolfgang von Goethe the carefree waltzing happiness of the first set is no longer present as in this second set the lovers encounter disenchantment and suspicion.

The set of Sechs Chöre, Op. 93a (c. 1883-84) and the Fünf Chöre, Op. 104 (1886-68) were not intended by Brahms for the middle class singing clubs. His two demanding sets of choral works, probably influenced by his close association with Schubert, are sober in character and use texts from eminent writers that include: Friedrich Rückert; Max Kalbeck and Johann Wolfgang Goethe. These choral pieces for 4-6 part unaccompanied choir are acknowledged as ranking amongst the greatest in a capella writing.

The choral forces used on this issue are the Gächinger Kantorei who were founded in 1953 by Helmuth Rilling in Gächingen, a small village in the Swabian Alps, near Stuttgart. Although the choirís headquarters moved to Stuttgart soon afterwards, the name was kept. The experienced Gächinger Kantorei tour regularly internationally and have produced over 60 gramophone recordings, winning a ĎGrand Prix du Disqueí award.

Gächinger Kantorei offer engaging and warm-hearted accounts of the first set in music that walks on the bright side of the street. In the more sombre pieces of the second set their passion and commitment never wanes. It is hard not to become involved in the unbridled enthusiasm that the choir conveys for Brahmsís delightful music. With a cool and clear tone the pianists Martin Galling and Michael Leuschner provide sympathetic accompaniment. The remastered sound is excellent and adds to the pleasure.

This release is my preferred recording of the Brahms Liebeslieder Walzer, Op. 52 and Op. 65. There are several fine versions in the catalogues and I especially admire the fresh and glowing account of the choral scores to the two sets of Liebeslieder Walzer from the Singverein der Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde Wien, under Gary Bertini on Orfeo 008102. Of the versions of the Liebeslieder Walzer for vocal quartet and two pianos, I can recommend the uplifting account from eminent line-up of Peter Schreier; Brigitte Fassbaender; Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Edith Mathis on Deutsche Grammophon 423 133-2. There is also a confidently performed version from the late 1950s that is worth considering from the impressive quartet of Elsie Morison; Marjorie Thomas; Richard Lewis and Donald Bell on a French edition from EMI Classics 575 722-2.

This excellently presented and gloriously performed release is a true credit to the Arts label and comes complete with full texts in German with English translations and the advantage of a fascinating essay by Bettina Schröm. A pleasing touch is the inclusion inside the booklet of the English translations of the actual titles of the forty-four songs.

This outstanding Brahms release is a real joy from start to finish. I have already included the disc in my next two Recorded Music Society programmes.

Michael Cookson

1. Rede, Madchen, Allzu Liebes, [1:05]
2. Am Gesteine Rauscht Die Flut, [0:51]
3. O Die Frauen, O Die Frauen, [0:56]
4. Wie Des Abends Schone Rote, [0:34]
5. Die Grune Hopfenranke, [1:07]
6. Ein Kleiner, Hubscher Vogel, [2:11]
7. Wohl Schon Bewandt War Es, [1:06]
8. Wenn So Lind Dein Auge Mir, [1:07]
9. Am Donaustrande, Da Steht Ein Haus, [1:27]
10. O, Wie Sanft Die Quelle, [1:06]
11. Nein, Es Ist Nicht Auszukommen, [1:02]
12. Schlosser Auf, Und Mache Schlosser, [0:43]
13. Vogelein Durchrauscht Die Luft, [0:47]
14. Sieh, Wie Ist Die Welle Klar, [1:00]
15. Nachtigall, Sie Singt So Schon, [0:50]
16. Ein Dunkeler Schacht Ist Liebe, [1:12]
17. Nicht Wandle, Mein Licht, [2:29]
18. Es Bebt Das Gestrauche, [1:22]
Neue Liebeslieder Walzer (New Love Song Waltzes), 15 songs for chorus 4 part voices and piano 4-hands, Op. 65, No. 1-15 (1874)
19. Verzicht, O Herz, Auf Rettung, [0:44]
20.Finstere Schatten Der Nacht, [1:41]
21. An Jeder Hand Die Finger, [1:03]
22. Ihr Schwarzen Augen, [0:49]
23. Wahre, Wahre Deinen Sohn, [0:59]
24. Rosen Steckt Mit An Die Mutter, [0:30]
25. Vom Gebirge, Well' Auf Well', [1:05]
26. Weiche Graser Im Revier, [1:39]
27. Nagen am Herzen, [1:03]
28. Ich Kose Sub Mit Der Und Der, [1:10]
29. Alles, Alles, In Den Wind, [0:41]
30. Schwarzer Wald, Dein Schatten Ist So Duster! [1:24]
31. Nein, Geliebter, Setze Dich, [2:26]
32. Flammenauge, Dunkles Haar, [1:34]
33. Zum Schlub: Nun Ihr Musen, Genug! [2:18]
Sechs Chöre (Six Choral Pieces) for unaccompanied chorus 4 to 6 part voices, Op. 93a (c. 1883-84)
34. Der Bucklichte Fiedler, [1:55]
35. Das Mädchen, [2:51]
36. O süßer Mai, [2:06]
37. Fahr wohl! [1:47]
38. Der Falke, [2:28]
39. Beherzigung, [1:07]
Fünf Chöre (Five Choral Pieces) for unaccompanied chorus 4 to 6 part voices, Op. 104 (1886-68)
40. Nachtwache I, [2:36]
41. Nachtwache II, [1:37]
42. Letztes Glück, [2:44]
43. Verlorene Jugend, [1:51]
44. Im Herbst, [5:39]


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