Heinrich von HERZOGENBERG (1843–1900)
Sechs Mädchenlieder von Paul Heyse Op. 98 [12:30] (7)
Kanons aus dem neugrichischen Liebes-Skollen von Goethe Op. 79 (excerpts) [7.32] (1,2,3)
Acht Lieder und Romanzen Op. 26 (excerpts) [11.11] (7)
Nachtlied [5.08] (1, 4, 5, 6)
Vier Notturnos (Gedichte von Joseph von Eichendorff) op. 22 [16.44] (7)
Iris-Anna Deckert (soprano) (1); Sarah Wegener (soprano) (2); Anja Bittner (soprano) (3); Ursula Eittinger (alto) (4); Andreas Weller (tenor) (5); Manfred Bittner (bass) (6); Gotz Payer (piano); Ensemble cantissimo (7)/Markus Utz
rec. Radiostudio, Zurich, 14 October 2010 and the Konservatorium Winterthur, Konzertsall, 11 February 2011
CARUS 83.451 [51.42]

In the CD booklet for this new disc of music for choir and vocal ensemble, the composer Heinrich von Herzogenberg is described as best known for his church music. In fact I had never heard a note of his music but know him from Ethel Smyth’s autobiography ‘Impressions that Remained’. Smyth describes Herzogenberg in these terms, “A more learned musician can never have existed”, she continues saying that “he used to compose for a given number of hours daily and as may be guessed the result was often dry”. Leipzig-based Herzogenberg and his wife became friends of Smyth’s when she studied in Leipzig and in fact Herzogenberg eventually became Smyth’s teacher.

Sechs Mädchenlieder von Paul Heyse are for 3-part women’s chorus and piano. They set a cycle of poems which cover the emotional life of a woman from imminent marriage, disillusion, love, unfulfilled desire and finally self-determination. It is not clear when they were written but they were probably designed for the Musik Hochschule where Herzogenberg taught. They are coolly creditable, firmly in the Mendelssohn-Brahms axis as opposed to the Liszt/Wagner one. The booklet describes them as masterly, but to me the music fails to capture the strength of character in the poems; the songs sound a little too much like the teaching exercise that they probably were. That said, they are cleanly and nicely sung by the ensemble cantissimo and might usefully find their way into the repertoire of all women’s choruses.

The Kanons op. 79 for three sopranos were written for a colleague’s singing class. Here we are given three of the five. They were written after Herzogenberg heard Brahms’s Kanons and decided he could do better. I have to confess that I have never heard Brahms’s versions, but here again Herzogenberg provides music which is nicely correct but fails to grab the attention. Soloists Iris-Anna Deckert, Sarah Wegener and Anja Bittner blend beautifully in the songs.

In 1879 Herzogenberg published eight 4-part female voice choruses as Acht Lieder und Romanzen, here ensemble cantissimo contribute three of them. Herzogenberg was the conductor of the Leipzig Bach-Verein and, we are told, greatly valued pure singing. Two years before the publication of these songs he had founded a choir school for the ladies of the choir, these songs were undoubtedly practice material.

Finally the Vier Notturnos setting Eichendorff poems. Eichendorff was Herzogenberg’s favourite poet and Herzogenberg set his poems throughout his composing career; these songs date from 1876. The title Notturno was often applied to piano music, but here Herzogenberg uses it for vocal music which is themed on the night. The four songs are in distinctively contrasted styles and the results are attractive. But again, despite the clean performances I found myself thinking of didactic material. These are preceded by another night piece, Nachtlied from Drei Gesange nach Dichtungen von Friedrich Hebbel; this time for mixed voice ensemble. The male voices make an interesting relief in the programme.

Heinrich von Herzogenberg perhaps deserves to be better known as a composer, but this disc is not the disc to improve his reputation. The performances are excellent, doing Herzogenberg a great service, but the music seems more suited to the rehearsal room. Nothing on the disc remotely approaches the vividness or intensity which Herzogenberg’s great contemporaries such as Brahms could achieve in this repertoire.

Robert Hugill

Nothing here remotely approaches the vividness or intensity which Herzogenberg’s great contemporaries could achieve in this repertoire.