What is the first
thing you do when you bring home the new CD and have opened
up the packaging? You might put it straight into the player,
in which case, with this disc, you would be immediately impressed.
On the other hand you might first attempt to navigate the booklet
and find out about the music and the composer/s, discover the
texts where applicable and learn about the performers. Well,
let’s assume for now that you do the latter.
You see the back
of the CD box and note that the pieces have been recorded, not
in chronological order, that’s OK, but in a random order, as
here with all of the Tantum Ego settings, the earliest
pieces, one after the other beginning from track 5. In the booklet
you read the essay by Winfried Kirsch - which at times, especially
in the opening page in its translation seems to struggle with
the English language and also appears to address a rather intellectual
audience – and find that the pieces are considered in a different
order. And then you note that the texts are set out in the back
in a third order quite unrelated to the other two. So, sorry,
MDG, presentation: Grade F.
are here to consider the music and the performances and from
this point onwards it’s all pretty positive.
Discs of just the
Bruckner motets are rare, normally a few of them will be utilized
as fillers for other works like one of the Masses, or motets
by Bruckner’s contemporaries say Reger. The Corydon Singers
on Hyperion and the Choir of St. Brides on Naxos have the complete
motets. I have not heard these discs but I do know of several
other versions of certain of the motets with which I can compare.
music incorporates a wide span of his compositional life and
anyone who knows anything at all about him will know what a
deeply spiritual and religious man he was, naively so it has
been said. But do you also know that he was very fond of dancing?
Johann Strauss he especially loved. Sacred and Profane side
but side, perhaps it was that tension that was the driving force.
Sometimes a devil seems to push him on, behind the conflicts
in his music. You can hear this in the demonic scherzos of the
symphonies and also see it in his life and in his lack of self-confidence.
That said the church music hardly lacks self-confidence except
that is with his Tantum ergo a text that he set to music
five times in 1846 in a slightly varied way, as a young church
musician and organist. The last version is with organ as indeed
are three other later motets. If no organ was involved and a
more noble sound was required then Bruckner specified the unique
addition of three trombones. We are offered three examples here.
Both organ and trombones were sometimes deployed to produce
a majestic, symphonic effect.
In tracking Bruckner’s
career we find him in three significant centres, St. Florian,
(1845-56), Linz from 1856, and Vienna from 1868. With the earliest
pieces: the settings of the Tantum ergo dating from the
first period, his language is fairly simple and often homophonic
and hymn-like. There are also two settings of Ave Maria,
the one for two soloists being rather classical. The rest of
the motets, including the famous ones like Virga Jesse,
date from his maturity. And of course while these motets and
choral pieces are being written he is, all the time, working
at his symphonic output. One stream of inspiration is inextricably
bound with the other; so much so that melodic lines and harmonic
progressions that you readily recognize in the motets can be
heard also in the symphonies and masses.
I have much enjoyed
many aspects of the Czech Philharmonic Choir’s performances.
The booklet photograph seems to show a choir of about fifty.
Too unwieldy? Well, possibly but to counteract this danger Petr
Fiala’s tempi certainly do not drag, quite the reverse. Compared
with say, the Chamber Choir of Stuttgart on Sony (nla) the Czech
choir take one minute quicker over Locus iste and Christus
factus est and half a minute more over Virga Jesse.
The Stuttgart choir is very sensitive to every textual nuance
but a smaller group can do that too. A large choir is often
more easily held in check by a quicker tempo perhaps to compensate.
The Czech choir’s sound is rich, beautifully balanced and passionate.
The soloists are generally very suitable and intonation is unproblematic.
Particularly pleasing are the moments of subito dynamics
which produce some dramatic hushed effects. The singers are
aided by a warm and welcoming SACD recording in Dabringhaus
and Grimm’s Gold series that aids rather than obstructs communication
between performers and listener. Altogether, a disc worth searching