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Josef Gabriel RHEINBERGER (1839–1901)
Oster-Hymne, Op. 134 [5.54]
Vier schstimmige Motetten, Op. 133 [12.46] Mass in E flat, Op. 109 (1878) [24.36]
Drei geistliche Gesänge, Op. 69 [12.44]
Phoenix Bach Choir and Kansas City Chorale/Charles Bruffy
rec. Camelback Bible Church, Paradise Valley, Arizona, 5-6 January, 19-20 May 2007.
CHANDOS CHSA 5055 [56.22]


Rheinberger is best known for his twenty organ sonatas. He studied in Munich and spent his working life there, developing a reputation as a teacher. His pupils included William Furtwängler and Engelbert Humperdinck. His organ sonatas have long been known to organists but it is only relatively recently that his choral music has come to prominence. He was a master of counterpoint, producing finely structured works full of graceful melodies. In style, the choral music of Brahms and Mendelssohn is never really far away.

His Mass in E flat for double choir was written in 1878. It comes from a period when Rheinberger was emerging from the influence of the Cecilian movement. The Gloria and Credo follow the Cecilian tenets with clear and straightforward setting of the text and little in the way of word-painting. But in the other movements of the mass he is freer, with many echoes of Venetian poly-choral techniques.

This new recording was made by two professional American choirs, the Phoenix Bach Choir and the Kansas City Chorale, conducted by Charles Bruffy. The two groups come together annually to record double choir works. The resulting ensemble is remarkably large, some forty-eight professional singers. They have a good clear focused sound, with a strong bright soprano line. They are recorded in a generous acoustic and the result captures well the ebb and flow of Rheinberger's music. Though the recording does seem to favour the high voices, I would have liked more bass.

Their performance is nicely phrased, but in a rather generalised way; the approach is pretty broad brush, inevitable perhaps with a large group recorded in a big acoustic. Attention to words seems to be secondary to concentration on a fine choral tone. There were moments when I would have liked them to make much more of the words.

Under Bruffy's direction the two choirs display remarkable cohesiveness of ensemble. His speeds are often quite relaxed, in such movements as the end of the Agnus Dei in the Mass I would have preferred a quicker tempo.

I also feel that Rheinberger's works respond to a smaller-scale, more intimate and detailed approach. In fact I have successfully performed the mass with a group with almost exactly half the number of singers used on this disc. Fewer singers and closer recording would have enabled Bruffy to concentrate more on details of phrasing and would have let the singers bring out the words.

The mass is available on CD by a variety of different ensembles. Westminster Cathedral Choir display their own inimitable style in their recording which they couple with Brahms's Missa Canonica. This would be my recommendation if you were simply interested in the Mass. But Bruffy and his ensemble couple the work with a selection of Rheinberger's motets. The lovely double choir Easter Hymn combines a setting of Victimae Paschale with Terra Tremuit. The four Six-voiced Motets are settings of extracts from the Psalms and sound the sort of grateful motets which should be in every good church choir's repertoire. The Drei Geistliche Gesange set sacred German poems.

These are lovely works, well recorded and this collection should suit if you want to explore Rheinberger's choral music. However if the mass is your main interest, consider the Westminster recording.

Robert Hugill



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