Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934)
Der Holdestein [7:26]
Versunken [ 1:46]
Auf dem Gottesacker [2:34]
Gesang der Armen im Winter [4:36]
Robert FUCHS (1847-1927)
Drei Gesänge für vierstimmigen Frauenchor Op.65 [11:40]
Zwei Gesänge für dreistimmigen Frauenchor Op.66 [11:23]
Walter BRAUNFELS (1882-1954)
Zwei Männerchöre Op.41 [5:15]
Franz SCHREKER (1878-1934) arr. Clytus GOTTWALD (b.1925)
Im Lenz [2:20]
Und wie mag die Liebe [1:41]
Orpheus Vokalensemble/Michael Alber
Konrad Elser (piano)
rec. Landesakademie für die musizierende Jugend in Bäden-Württemberg, Ochsenhausen, Germany, 10-13 March 2011
CARUS 83.399 [61:31]
Wan is the word that most readily leaps to mind to describe this disc. Having been really excited by a recital from Paul McCreesh and his Gabrieli Consort recently I was very much in the mood to hear an equivalent programme from a similarly-sized professional German choir. Nothing is wrong with this current disc but in every respect from repertoire to production to execution it’s a weak and watery affair compared to the heady delights of the McCreesh; if not wan then earnestly worthy at best. Two of the three composers represented here (Schreker and Braunfels) most collectors – well me at least – got to know through their operas and orchestral excerpts from operas in the case of Schreker. I guess I was expecting something rather more red-blooded and harmonically adventurous than the thin gruel of academe presented here. It transpires that most of these works date from Schreker’s student years and that is exactly how they sound. Even the gruesome ballad Der Holdestein which gives the disc its title – “horror seizes the villain … woe is me, the witch of Holdestein ... a cry, a fall – an empty cliff … A man lay dead by Holdestein” - is horror hiding behind a lace handkerchief. I can imagine a considerably more thrusting and dramatic rendition of this work and the problem with this performance encapsulates the entire disc. The choir and piano - when required - are relatively recessed in a pleasantly warm acoustic which further adds to the impression that they do not sing with a wide dynamic range. They have a cultured tone as one would expect of a group of professional singers but without the near superhuman blend of the Gabrieli Consort let alone their attack or musical sensitivity. The solo voices taken from within the choir are not particularly appealing and the women in particular struggle to retain absolute control of tone and pitch through the highest lying passages. It should be said though that the sopranos negotiate other similar passages elsewhere with considerably more beauty and security. Meeeswogen [track 5] for male chorus holds the interest with a more fluid chromatic style. Likewise Schlehenblüte [track 7] has a mellifluous richness that raises it above its companions.
Robert Fuchs seems to have taught/inspired an entire generation of Germanic composers in much the same way that Parry and Stanford did in Britain. A list of his alumni is remarkable: Enescu, Mahler, Wolf, Sibelius, Zemlinsky, Korngold, Schmidt and Schreker to name but some. When you consider the range of styles those composers encompass its rather a shame to report that the five choruses for women recorded here are as staid as they are. The influence of Brahms hangs dutifully over them and for all their craftsmanlike skill inspiration is sadly lacking. Fluent is about as positive as I can be with Winterlied [track 12] being the most gracefully charming of the lot. An improvement comes in the shape of the two Men’s Choruses by Braunfels. Nachtzauber [track 14] is a charmer. Best of all are Clytus Gottwald’s three arrangements of solo songs by Schreker. These go well beyond being simple transcriptions. Gottwald is well known for his imaginative treatments and so it proves here. These three songs – although some of the shortest on the disc – are the most memorable by some distance.
The accompanying booklet is perfectly good – an interesting essay in German and English. There’s full sung texts in the original German and in English-only translation.
The first time I listened to the disc I found it simply dull. The more I listened the more annoyed I became with the sheer lack of dynamism in the performance. To my ear it’s the kind of ‘refined’ well-mannered music-making that gives Classical Music a reputation for being bloodless and irredeemably twee. All of the music is credited with receiving its world premiere recording and so will be of interest to admirers of the genre in general or of these composers in particular but I have to admit that this leaves me in a state of lethargic ennui.
Bloodless and irredeemably twee.