Josef RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Mass and Motets - Sacred Music 9
Mass in A minor, Op. 197 (1901) [21:31]
Four Motets, Op. 133 (1881) [13:55]
Five Hymns, Op. 107 (1877) [16:56]
Five Motets, Op. 163 (1881/90) [14:05]
Saarbrücken Chamber Choir/Georg Grün
Rainer Oster (organ)
rec. February 2009, St. Michael’s Church, Wemmetsweiler, Germany (Op. 197); 22-23 February 2009, Großer Sendesaal, Funkhaus Halberg, Saarbrücken, Germany
CARUS 83.410 [66:49]

Carus the specialist music publisher and choral music label continue their survey of Rheinberger’s sacred choral music. For the majority of music-lovers the prolific Rheinberger remains a footnote in music history. Popular music books The Gramophone Classical Music Guide and The Rough Guide to Classical Music do not even consider Rheinberger worthy of inclusion.

He was born in Liechtenstein as his father was the Treasurer to the Crown Prince in the Principality. He spent virtually all of his working life in Munich teaching there for over forty years both at the Music Conservatorium and the Hochschule für Musik und Theater. He also served as Bavarian Court Kapellmeister and was director of the Court Chapel of All Saints in Munich.

Although hugely respected in his day Rheinberger is one of a group of composers of the Austro-German school active in the second half of the nineteenth century. These figures include Karl Goldmark, Theodor Kirchner, Heinrich von Herzogenberg and Robert Fuchs – all inevitably overshadowed by Liszt, Wagner, Bruckner and Brahms.

His prolific output is most likely to be encountered in the genre of sacred choral music or organ works. Liturgical music was by no means his only favoured genre. He wrote two symphonies, a piano concerto, several concert overtures, a couple of operas Die sieben Raben and Türmers Töchterlein and a quantity of Lieder. With regard to his chamber music I have attended recitals of his Sextet for piano and winds and the Nonet for wind and strings.

Biographer J. Weston Nicholl writes favourably of Rheinberger’s choral works, “His twelve Masses, Stabat Mater, De Profundis and many other examples of church music are marked by earnestness and deep religious feeling.” (Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 1908 Edition, Volume 4, pg. 84)

The opening work on the disc is the Mass in A minor, Op. 197 for mixed choir and organ. This was the last of his fourteen masses for use in the Roman Catholic service. Composed in 1901 it was left incomplete at the composer’s death. Only the Kyrie, Gloria and some of the Credo were finished. Subsequently part of the Credo was discovered in Rheinberger’s sketches allowing the movement to be reconstructed. Louis Adolph Coerne, a pupil of Rheinberger, composed the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei. In the Agnus Dei Coerne cleverly restates thematic material from the Kyrie. Splendidly sung the glorious opening Kyrie is one of Rheinberger’s finest inspirations. Rainer Oster plays the impressive organ part with considerable assurance. The liner-notes state that this is the first performance of the score.

Composed in 1881 the Four Motets, Op. 133 are designed for a cappella 6-part choir. The Five Hymns, Op.107 for a cappella 4-part choir were mainly written in 1877. It seems that the first three hymns have not been recorded previously. Written in 1881/90 the final work on the disc is the Five Motets, Op. 163 for 5-part choir. The second and third motets are evidently receiving their premiere recordings.

The fifty-strong Saarbrücken Chamber Choir was established in 1990 by its music director Georg Grün. They seem eminently suited to these refreshing Rheinberger scores providing attractive performances that are both characterful and responsive. I was especially taken with the choir’s unity, clarity of diction and the high degree of reverence for the sacred texts. Congratulations are in order for their scrupulous preparation, marked attention to detail and admirable singing.

Recorded at two locations the Carus engineers are to be praised for providing a clear and well balanced sound quality. The Mass in A has the benefit of being recorded in a resonant ecclesiastical setting with the organ sounding just superb. In the remaining scores the firmer acoustic of the Großer Sendesaal, Saarbrücken provides an impressive balance. The booklet contains an informative essay. It is good to see that full texts are provided with English translations.

The Saarbrücken Chamber Choir make a strong case for encouraging a wider audience for these sacred scores.

Michael Cookson