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Eine Deutsche Messe - German sacred music for a cappella male voices
Ensemble Nobiles (Paul Heller (tenor); Christian Pohlers (tenor); Felix Hübner (bass); Lucas Heller (bass); Lukas Lomtscher (bass))
rec. Versöhnungskirche Lepizig, Germany, September 2011 and January 2012
Disc contents listed at end of review
GENUIN GEN12242 [69:30]

Experience Classicsonline

I came to this disc without any expectations and was taken aback by how much I enjoyed it. As you might guess from the title, the disc’s idea is to consider how German composers have approached the words and, more importantly, the sentiment of the text of the Mass. Nearly all the tracks are sung in German and they take settings of the mass text and juxtapose them with motets which express similar ideas. The backbone is Schubert’s German Mass D872. The movements are spread around the disc and each is juxtaposed with at least one setting of a similar text, often one by a 19th Century composer and one by a 20th or 21st century composer. Hence when we get to the Gloria section of the Mass we get Schubert’s Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe followed by Haputmann’s setting of the actual Mass text and Schlenker’s Gott wohnt in einem Lichte.
Almost everything on this disc was completely new to me, but I enjoyed every track. The Schubert movements, in particularly, are a real delight. Each movement is warm and appealing, with a beautiful simplicity reminiscent of folk music. The first track, for example, is a beautiful hymn tune about the soul laden down with guilt and pain. It’s strophic and direct, but it’s a cracking tune, wonderfully harmonised and beautifully sung. There is something simple, whimsical, even homely about it, which melted my heart and made me feel actually rather moved. His “Gloria” (track 5) is upbeat and sunny, entirely lacking in the bombast which often comes with this part of the setting. The “Credo” (track 8) is also straightforward and direct.
The numbers by well known composers are a mixture of the unsophisticated and the slightly bizarre. Cornelius’ Mitten wir in Leben sind is beautiful in its appeal, and Praetorius’ hymn is as direct and engaging as his famous Christmas settings, though I found Saint-Saëns’ Veni Creator Spiritus a little ponderous and self-important. The more modern movements are also very appealing. Paul Heller’s Kyrie motet begins with plainchant then moves into more harmonically adventurous mode, which then alternates with plainsong a few more times. Schlenker’s Gott wohnt in einem lichter is slow and mysterious, and the Distler settings are brief and closer to dissonance, but they have a spiritual and emotional appeal that is very direct. Biller’s setting of Verleih uns Frieden makes for a haunting if not especially conclusive end to the disc.
Ensemble Nobiles are five young singers who sang together in the famous Leipzig Thomanerchor for nine years. The blend of their voices is sensational, and they are captured up close and warm so that the listener feels as though he is right in the midst of them. Their close brand of harmony put me in mind of the King’s Singers, and I found listening to them a welcoming treat.
This is definitely worth exploring, then, not just for its thoughtful programming but also for anyone who is fond of the sound of a male choir. The packaging contains full sung texts and translations.
Simon Thompson

Disc contents

Franz SCHUBERT Deutsche Messe (German Mass) 4:30
Paul HELLER Kyrie eleison, for chorus 6:05
Kurt THOMAS Mitten wir im Leben sind, for chorus 5:12
Peter CORNELIUS Trauerchöre (4) for male chorus, Op 9 6:07
Franz SCHUBERT Deutsche Messe (German Mass) 1:48
Moritz HAUPTMANN Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe, for chorus 3:53
Manfred SCHLENKER Gott wohnt in einem Lichte, for chorus 6:36
Franz SCHUBERT Deutsche Messe (German Mass) 3:54
Camille SAINT-SAËNS Veni Creator Spiritus, motet for chorus 5:17
Hugo DISTLER Wir glauben an Gott, den Vater, for chorus 2:05
Franz SCHUBERT Deutsche Messe (German Mass) 1:54
Hugo DISTLER Herr, schicke, was du wilt, for chorus 2:11
Franz SCHUBERT Deutsche Messe (German Mass) 2:29
Erhard MAUERSBERGER Wessobrunner Gebet, for chorus 2:36
Franz SCHUBERT Deutsche Messe (German Mass) 1:59
Franz SCHUBERT Deutsche Messe (German Mass) 2:52
Hugo DISTLER O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß, for chorus 3:24
Michael PRAETORIUS Aus tiefer Not schrei ich zu dir a 8 (Musae Sioniae I, 1605), motet 2:01
Franz SCHUBERT Deutsche Messe (German Mass) 1:39
Georg Christoph BILLER Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich, for chorus 2:47 

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