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.
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
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.