Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Zwei Gesänge (Two Songs) for 16-voice choir a-cappella, Op. 34 (1897):
Der Abend (The Evening) [12:11]
(Hymn) [13:30]
Drei Gesänge (Three Songs) for male chorus a-cappella on poems by Friedrich Rückert, AV 123 (1935):
Vor den Türen (At the Gates) [4:38]
(Dreamlight) [5:00]
Fröhlich im Maien
(Joyous in May) [3:10]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Zwei Gesänge (Two Songs) from Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) (1884/85) arranged for 4-part chorus by Clytus Gottwald:
Die zwei blauen Augen (The Two Blue Eyes) [5:43]
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen
(I am Lost to the World) [6:46]
Richard WAGNER (1813-1883)
Three songs of Tristan and Isolde for 16-voice choir arranged by Clytus Gottwald:
Im Treibhaus (In the Greenhouse/Hothouse) from the Wesendonck Lieder (1858) [5:25]
Träume (Dreams) from the Wesendonck Lieder (1857) [4:30]
Isoldes Liebestod
(1857/59) [5:46]
Chor des Bayerischen Rundfunks/Peter Dijkstra
rec. 22-25 September 2009, 19-22 July 2011, Hercules Hall, Residenz, Munich, Germany
Full texts in German only
BR-KLASSIK 900503 [67:36]
Works performed by unaccompanied choruses (a-cappella) have been unfashionable for several decades and are a sorely neglected section of the repertoire. The sudden growth of interest in community singing thanks to television coverage given to British choirmaster and broadcaster Gareth Malone for his popular BBC TV programmes The Choir and Military Wives is I fear unlikely to spread to classical works. So it’s good to have the Bavarian Radio Choir under the direction Peter Dijkstra recording discs of music for unaccompanied choruses. I already have the Bavarian choir’s releases of the Fauré Requiem, Op. 48/Poulenc Quatre motets pour un temps de penitence on Sony 88697911082 and Martin Mass for Double Chorus/Kodály Missa brevis/Poulenc Litanies à la Vierge Noire on BR Klassik 900500. These are of such high quality that I hope that there are other issues in the offing.
The Bavarian Radio Choir are also likely to be encountered performing in collaboration with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra. Last May in Munich I heard the Bavarian forces combine in performing Mahler’s Symphony No. 2 Resurrection under Mariss Jansons at the Philharmonie in the Gasteig. To open the evening’s proceedings the Bavarian Radio Choir directed by Michael Gläser performed one of the works presented on this BR Klassik release: Mahler’s Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen (I am Lost to the World) transcribed for chorus by Clytus Gottwald.
A seasoned transcriber of songs and orchestral works for chorus Clytus Gottwald was born in 1925 at Bad Salzbrunn, Lower Silesia in south-western Poland. Gottwald is responsible for preparing five of the ten works which are the Mahler and Wagner scores on this BR Klassik release. Richard Strauss, an experienced and highly adept writer for the voice, is represented by scores from both ends of his compositional life. The first and last are Strauss’s set of Zwei Gesänge (Two Songs) for 16-voice choir a-cappella, composed in 1897. Der Abend (The Evening), to a Friedrich Schiller text and the Hymne (Hymn), Op. 34/2 is a Friedrich Rückert setting. Strauss’s Drei Gesänge for male chorus are also settings of poems by Friedrich Rückert: Vor den Türen (At the Gates); Traumlicht (Dreamlight) and Fröhlich im Maien (Joyous in May). Despite repeated plays I remain unconvinced by all these Strauss settings; especially when compared to those of Mahler and Strauss. I find the Drei Gesänge (Three Songs) dull and rather lacking in melody and variety. This is especially galling as I know how superbly Strauss writes for the voice both in lieder and in opera.
The two Mahler works from his first song cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) were composed in 1884/85 to Rückert texts: Die zwei blauen Augen and Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen. In his own inimitable way Clytus Gottwald has transcribed the pair of settings for 4-part chorus and the results are outstanding.
Wagner was completing the texts to Tristan and Isolde whilst living with his wife in a cottage in the grounds of the Zurich villa owned by his wealthy patron Otto Wesendonck. During his stay Wagner became infatuated with Otto Wesendonck’s wife Mathilde and set five of her poems known as the Wesendonck Lieder for female voice and piano. Wagner orchestrated Träume (Dreams) himself with Felix Weinberger orchestrating the remaining four. Two of them: Im Treibhaus (In the Greenhouse/Hothouse) and Träume (Dreams) are closely connected to Tristan and Isolde with Wagner referring to the two songs in the prelude to act three and in the act two duet respectively. Here Gottwald has impressively transcribed three of the Tristan and Isolde songs for 16-voice choir: Im Treibhaus (In the Greenhouse/Hothouse) in 2004 and Träume (Dreams) in 2004. Tristan und Isolde was premièred in 1865 in Munich and the poignant aria Isoldes Liebestod is heard at the end of act 3. Tristan is already dead and the princess Isolde lies dying singing her farewell love song Mild und leise wie er lächelt (How gently and quietly he smiles). It was in 2006 when Gottwald prepared this transcription of Isoldes Liebestod. It works wonderfully well.
Peter Dijkstra directs the Bavarian Radio Choir in highly committed and deeply expressive performances. These feel especially well suited to these late-Romantic scores. I particularly admire the choir’s ensemble and finely blended tone. The dynamic contrasts are splendidly conveyed releasing both power and intensity. Recorded in the superb acoustic of the Hercules Hall in the Residenz the pleasing sound is well balanced and clear. The biggest letdown is the booklet which includes texts but sadly no English translations. Being able to understand what is being sung is absolutely vital to me.
These excellent performances are sheer delight. I love these glowing and highly successful transcriptions although the Strauss scores leave me cold.
Michael Cookson
Sheer delight. Glowing and highly successful.