Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Schicksalslied, Op. 54 (1871) [16:20]
Alt-Rhapsodie, Op. 53 (1869) [11:34]
Warum ist das Licht gegeben, Op. 74 No. 1 (1878) [10:18]
Begräbnisgesang, Op. 13 (1859) [7:13]
Gesang der Parzen, Op. 89 (1882) [10:59]
Ann Hallenberg (mezzo)
Collegium Vocale Gent
Orchestre des Champs-Élysées/Philippe Herreweghe
rec. 18-20 July 2011, Polska Studio Warsaw
PHI LPH 003 [56:48]
The choral music of Brahms is a real treasure trove, where the discerning listener will make discoveries galore. It was as a choral conductor that Brahms made his significant career move to Vienna and for every conceivable reason this is repertoire that demands urgent attention.
It is now a full forty years since Philippe Herreweghe established his Collegium Vocale Gent. Previously associated primarily with Bach, in terms of repertoire they have moved forwards in time, always with authority and assurance. Phi is Herreweghe's own record label, and the standards of both recording and presentation are high.
Having previously made an outstanding recording of the German Requiem for Harmonia Mundi (HMC 901608), Herreweghe now directs these five shorter choral works: Schicksalslied (Song of Destiny), the Alto Rhapsody, Begräbnisgesang (Funeral Song) for chorus and wind instruments, Gesang der Parzen (Song of the Fates) and the wonderful unaccompanied motet Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Mühseligen? (Why is Light given to the Unfortunate?).
Brahms revered the great German tradition, particularly as it related to Protestant church music; hence his love of Bach and of Schütz. In the light of these credentials of composer and performers it can be no surprise that this disc represents an outstanding addition to the catalogue. If evidence be needed that the composer found his true voice early in his career, then his Op. 13, Begräbnisgesang, will provide it. The scoring for winds, drums and voices creates an extraordinary power and intensity and this performance is worth the price of purchase on its own. It is not offered on its own and the other interpretations are no less fine. The range of this great composer's musical language is found among this collection, and at the other end of his career, the Gesang der Parzen from the 1880s has a different aesthetic altogether. Setting words by Goethe, this is another example of the composer's dark view of fate, so typical of the artists of his time.
The mezzo-soprano Ann Hallenberg sings warmly in the celebrated the Alto Rhapsody, while Herreweghe makes the Song of Destiny a powerful and compelling experience, with both line and texture beautifully judged.
All these compositions are masterpieces - did Brahms ever compose anything less than a masterpiece? Another work that is less well known is the ambitious unaccompanied motet Warum ist das Licht gegeben, in which the singing of the Collegium Vocale could hardly be bettered in communicating the music's extraordinary subtleties of counterpoint.
All these compositions are masterpieces. The Collegium Vocale could hardly be bettered.