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Pater Noster- Five Centuries of Sacred Choral Music
Salzburger Bachchor/Alois Glassner
rec. 29-31 May 2014, Kirche St. Konrad, Abersee am Wolfgangsee, Austria
Sung texts with German translations enclosed OEHMS CLASSICS OC1817 [64:58]
I have admired the Salzburger Bachchor on earlier issues, not least Ivor Bolton’s Die Schöpfung some eight years ago. On the present disc, all on their own, they present an illuminating cross-section of “Personal Addresses to God the Father and the Mother of God”, from five centuries; in other words numerous The Lord’s Prayers and Ave Marias. On the other hand these five centuries are very unequally represented. We get Jacob Gallus’s Pater noster from the 16th century and Heinrich Schütz’s Vater unser from the 17th century, but there is nothing from the 18th century. As for the 19th century it is represented by a few things from rather late in the century. The rest is 20th century and even 21st century: Herwig Reiter’s Vater unser seems to have been written in 2001 and Wolfram Wagner’s Pater noster was premiered as recently as 2008. In effect there is a lacuna of more than 200 years – almost half the period.
There is no need to carp over this, especially when the quality of the music and the performances are on such elevated level. It begins with the earliest works, Jacobus Gallus (a.k.a. Jacob Handl) and his Pater noster, an eight-part structure in canonic form, lively and beautiful. Heinrich Schütz is more restrained in his German setting of the prayer. Francis Poulenc takes us to more modern times. He wrote his Salve Regina in 1941, in the midst of the war. This is a four-part work with frequent changes of time-signature, based on Gregorian chant. It is from a period that began in 1936 when one of his best friends was killed in a road accident. It marked the start of a decade when Poulenc wrote quite a lot of sacred music.
Giuseppe Verdi wrote some sacred music, mostly during the last decades of his life, and people argue over whether he was a believer. Toscanini said in an interview that he was an atheist. It is hard to believe, though, that behind his noble O Padre nostro (1873) there shouldn’t be some belief. The singing of the choir is truly marvellous in this prayer. It is no less impressive in the angelic Laudi alla Vergine Maria for 4-part women’s choir.
Franz Liszt’s religiosity in later years is well-known and he composed quite a lot of church music, best known possibly for the great oratorio Christus (1867). He wrote sacred works much earlier than that and the Pater noster on this disc is from the late 1840s. Maybe this genre has been overshadowed by his more spectacular piano and orchestral music, but for those still unfamiliar with his sacred music there is a lot to explore. This Pater noster should be a tempting taster.
Besides his symphonies Anton Bruckner wrote three masses and a Te Deum and several other sacred works. Ave Maria from 1861 may not be his best known composition but it certainly qualifies as one of the most beautiful settings of this text. I happen to have at least a handful of recordings of the piece and the present one is without doubt very near the top.
Those who regard Alfred Schnittke’s music as a hard nut to crack should lend an ear to Otche Nash. It is far from his usual style, even though he many times is more accessible than one believes.
Grieg wrote Ave maris stella as an occasional composition in the 1890s and he didn’t even give it an opus number. In fact, it more and more stands out as one of his masterpieces. It is marvellously well sung. Listen to those sopranos.
The most recent composition on this disc is Wolfram Wagner’s Pater noster. At 13:00 it is also by far the longest. As with Poulenc his starting point is the Gregorian chant. There is a lot of repetition of words and parts of words, “creating the effect of a mantra”, as the liner-notes say. It’s a powerful piece with a lot of vitality. In sharp contrast to Wagner is Maurice Duruflé, whose prayer is the shortest on the disc and very restrained. This was the composer’s last work.
Gustav Holst’s Ave Maria is beautiful. Herwig Reiter, who besides being composer and professor of choral conducting, is also the recording producer for this CD, wrote his Vater unser for women’s choir. Alois Glassner convinced him that it would be just as good for men’s choir. Reiter agreed: “Wonderful”, he said. I have to agree, having sung in male choirs for many years.
Benjamin Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin is a remarkable composition, written when he was only sixteen. I have rarely heard it better sung.
The Ybbstaler Vaterunser makes a beautiful conclusion to this eminently valuable compilation of “Personal Addresses to God the Father and the Mother of God”.
Some final words about the recording, culled from the liner-notes: It was recorded in May 2014 in a modern church with excellent acoustics in the Salzkammergut region. When the technical cutting was undertaken in early autumn, one could hear soft birdsong from outside during the singing, almost the entire time, hardly noticeable. “At first we thought we had to cut out the birdsong, but then we decided to leave it in,” Glassner says. The heavenly singers, after all, are part of the music.
I completely agree. This is a recording to treasure for anyone interested in sacred music.
Track listing Jacobus GALLUS (1550 – 1591)
1. Pater noster [3:19] Heinrich SCHÜTZ (1585 – 1672)
2. Vater unser [1:58] Francis POULENC (1899 – 1963)
3. Salve Regina [4:21] Giuseppe VERDI (1813 – 1901)
4. O Padre nostro [7:14]
5. Laudi alla Vergine Maria [5:19] Franz LISZT (1811 – 1886]
6. Pater noster II [3:10] Anton BRUCKNER (1824 – 1896)
7. Ave Maria [3:32] Alfred SCHNITTKE (1934 – 1998)
8. Otche Nash [3:09] Edvard GRIEG (1843 – 1907)
9. Ave, maris stella [3:23] Wolfram WAGNER (b. 1962)
10. Pater noster [13:00] Maurice DURUFLÉ (1902 – 1986)
11. Notre Père [1:38] Gustav HOLST (1874 – 1934)
12. Ave Maria [3:47] Herwig REITER (b. 1941)
13. Vater unser [3:31] Benjamin BRITTEN (1913 – 1976)
14. A Hymn to the Virgin [3:36] Trad
15. Ybbstaler Vaterunser [3:50]