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Josef Gabriel RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)
Musica Sacra X
Sechs zweistimmige Hymne Op. 118 (1880) [18.34]
Ave Maria in B WoO 71, No. 1 (1884) [2.45]
Salve Regina WoO 54, No. 2 (c.1885) [3.45]
Marianische Hymnen Op. 171 (1880-92) [21.53]
Vier Hymnen Op. 54 (1877) [11.35]
Vier elegische Gesange Op. 128 (1882) [22.32]
Lydia Teuscher (soprano); Christine Müller (mezzo); Annette Markert (alto); Götz Payer (piano); Kay Johannsen (organ)
rec. 21-23 September 2009, Stiftskirche Stuttgart, 5-6 October 2009, Kammerstudio, SWR Stuttgart. DDD
CARUS 83.431 [75.33]

Experience Classicsonline


If, like me, you have associated Josef Rheinberger solely with the organ loft and those remarkable if, it seems sometimes rather long, sonatas, then this CD will come as a breath of fresh air. It is part of a Carus series that includes masses and Motets (see also review of Vol. IX 83.410). This neatly presented disc consists of a sequence of hymns and Latin texts set for female voices and either piano or organ accompaniment. The booklet has photographs of the artists as well as texts which have been sensibly translated. There are useful notes by Berthold Over - also well translated. So what of the music?
 
Rheinberger was primarily a church musician right from the time of his first appointment at the age of fourteen. He mainly worked in Munich and especially at the Hofkapelle which was responsible “for the church music at the Allerheiligen-Hofkirche’ at the Munich Court form 1877-1894”. His religious works span his entire career as demonstrated here.
 
There are three settings in all of the Ave Maria. One is unopused and is simply ‘in B’. It is sweet and romantic and probably aimed at an amateur market. This eloquent work with its repetitions of ‘Ave Maria’ at the end is utterly satisfying. Another setting opens the Marianische Hymnen Op 171, (and a page of the manuscript is reproduced in the booklet). These comprise six text settings, all in Latin, for either two female voices or for one. They were written over a period of twelve years. And the third is the final text of the Five Hymns Op 54 for mezzo-soprano and organ or piano. These are rather operatic settings, indeed arias composed for Fanny von Hofnaas whom Rheinberger eventually married in 1869. they are both pictured at the back of the booklet in a style typical of the period.
 
The Marian Hymns are accompanied by piano throughout and seem suitable for the Victorian - if they were British, that is, drawing room. They are somewhat sentimental, indeed, as the booklet calls them, “sugary” and falling into the category of art songs. The style seems difficult to reconcile with the Latin texts such as ‘Alma Redemptoris mater’, ‘Salve regina’ and ‘Ave Maris Stella’ yet, we learn that they were performed in the Hofkapelle by a tenor or tenors soon after completion.
 
Another unpublished and unopused work is the brief, separate Salve Regina, which was intended for Op. 171 but expunged in favour of the present setting. It is really rather unmemorable but quite pleasing. All of these pieces are well behaved and suitable for the untroubled and untroubling religious needs of the time but quite out of kilter with our own times and indeed with those immediately preceding Rheinberger.
 
The recording opens with the Sechs zweistimmige Hymnen Op. 118 for two sopranos and organ. These are mostly to well-known texts and generally not too sickly-sweet except for the rather sentimental setting of the opening ‘Salve Regina’; there are indeed three such settings on this CD. The Memorarae (also a poem to the Virgin Mary) is by Fanny his wife who also translated many of the Latin texts into German for her husband. Generally the style is competent two-part writing with often an exceptionally memorable melody at least for the opening lines. At times, for example in the Ave Maris Stella and the final Puer Natus the writing is even Bachian with attractive sequences. There are two psalm extracts Quam admirabile (Psalm 8) and Inclina Domine (Psalm 86) and these would have acted as substitutes for congregational psalms in the Munich Hofkirche.
 
I should mention the two remaining works a little more fully. The Vier Hymnen consists of two psalm settings and two medieval texts. They were written for his wife to be, Fanny. These are in an attractive and more restrained style, harmonically. Again they seem to take delight in long-limbed melodic lines. The music could as easily be suitable for a parlour or a setting of love poetry. But why should the devil have all the best tunes?
 
The CD ends with the Vier elegische Gesänge which is, I feel the finest as well as the longest work on the CD. The mood is one of Brahmsian seriousness and serenity. The sugary chromaticisms have gone and the texts have a modernist touch. Apparently they were composed for Heinrich Vogel who was a known Wagnerian; indeed he had sung Tristan. These four songs would have been performed at Rheinberger's Hofkapelle. The first song or aria as it could be called The souls of the righteous concerns itself with God’s judgement and in part takes its text from Psalm 126, the second is rather baroque in style and uses, towards the end, the chorale melody Wie schön uns der Morgenstern, a melody used in Britain to this day for an Epiphany hymn. This leads nicely into a serene Christmas setting beginning ‘Holy Night on Angel’s Wings/thou comest lightly to the world’. Finally an uplifting, almost Schumannesque setting of Easter Song which has a much more florid vocal line and brings the cycle to a joyous and highly satisfying conclusion. There is a sense that the songs were conceived as a whole, in a suitable language and with appropriate word/text painting in melody and harmony.
 
This disc therefore takes you on a journey through Rheinberger’s sacred vocal music career. One comes out of the experience enriched and moved. This is also due to the gracious and ideal performances of the three vocalists whose tone quality, although mature and full, is always literally perfectly in tune but also in accord with the style of the music. In addition the use of piano and/or organ is apt and the accompaniments are sensitive and beautifully balanced.
 
The texts are given although rather haphazardly scattered throughout the booklet.
 
Gary Higginson 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


 


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