One of the most grown-up review sites around

Search MusicWeb Here
 

 

International mailing


  Founder: Len Mullenger              Founding Editor: Rob Barnett              Contact Seen and Heard here

Some items
to consider


.
La Mer Ticciati

Eriks EŠENVALDS

Detlev GLANERT

Jaw-dropping

simply marvellous

Outstanding music

Elite treatment

some joyous Gershwin


Bartok String Quartets
uniquely sensitive


Cantatas for Soprano

 

REVIEW Plain text for smartphones & printers

Support us financially by purchasing this from

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Choral Works
Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Mühseligen Op.74/1 [10:34]
Intermezzo Op.119/1 [4:04]
Fünf Gesänge Op.104 [13:22]
Schicksalslied Op.54 [14:59]
Drei Motetten Op.110 [8:56]
Drei Quartette [7:23]
Fest- und Gedenksprüche Op.109 [10:29]
Capella Amsterdam/Daniel Reuss
Philip Mayers and Angela Gassenhuber (pianos)
rec. 2012, Waalse Kerk, Amsterdam
HARMONIA MUNDI HMC902160 [70:08]

Throughout his career, Brahms aim was to marry the discipline and structural techniques of the old masters he so admired to modern Romantic expression. In his orchestral music, that process reached its triumphant climax in the Passacaglia that ends the Fourth Symphony, but the same ambition also governed his choral music, a useful survey of which is provided in this disc. Roman Hinke’s booklet note summarises this admirably when he describes Brahms’ aim as “to yoke the sublime polyphonic art of the founding fathers, the old Netherlanders, the genius Palestrina and his contemporaries, the Venetians and their countless disciples, to the Romantic world of feeling and experience, and thus de facto to bring about a fruitful renaissance in musical practice.” He was very successful in doing so, as this disc proves.

The title track, Warum ist das Licht, gets the air of lamentation about right, and the atmosphere manages to be melancholy without being doleful. Here, as elsewhere in the disc, Capella Amsterdam demonstrate impressive clarity of approach. The motet’s second section, Lasset uns, lifts the whole thing heavenwards, brightening the tone along with the upward movement of the vocal line, and the third movement does so all the more.

The three motets exemplify the composer’s later style, and are very much under the influence of the Venetians and, north of the border, of Schütz. The choir's tone becomes mellowed and more inward, as befits both the style and intensity of sacred subject matter, and listening to this, for me, posed interesting questions about the composer's famously sceptical religious outlook. Is this really the music of someone utterly devoid of faith?

Away from a church context, Brahms wrote several part songs for middle class choral society groups, and he laboured long and hard over them. That makes them beautiful gems. Two Nightwatches contrast very well, one a bittersweet meditation on love, the other a more comforting vision of divine protection. Last Happiness is then full of comforting Romantic glow, and the sound world of Im Herbst is as autumnal as the text's melancholy subject material, taking a melting turn towards the major at the end.

The Schicksalslied sounds marvellously intimate in the four-hand piano version. There is a particularly beautiful glow over beginning and end, and this performance underlines the consolatory nature of the text, in a way that the central section seems to deny.

The Three Quartets gain a whole extra layer of complexity with the addition of the piano line, more evidence of composer's intense commitment to what others might take as a throwaway project. The effect is actually rather profound in Sehnsucht, more folksy and carefree in Abendlied, while Nächtens is more febrile and uncertain, both exciting and unsettling.

The Fest und Gedenksprüche, on the other hand, are complex public utterances and they rise to it impressively. Listen, for example, to the figure on “nicht zu Schanden” in the first song, or the polychoral rhythmic resonances in the second, illustrating the divisions of the kingdom of which it speaks. The effect is thrilling, and it was here most of all that I noticed the hand of Schütz; even maybe a touch of Palestrina? The bonus of the Op. 119 Intermezzo is delicately played and thoughtful, perhaps adding more atmosphere than serving any other function.

Throughout, the recording engineers keep some air around the sound, giving a sense of space without losing the mostly intimate feeling. Reuss’s direction manages to evoke a real sense of profundity yet simultaneously intimacy, and the choir’s sound never has a touch of the clinical that can infect some British choirs in unaccompanied choral work like this. The sound is tight and harmonious but beautifully blended with just the right sense of space. As a curated introduction to some of Brahms’ choral music, this does the job very nicely.

Simon Thompson
 

 




Gerard Hoffnung CDs

Advertising on
Musicweb



Donate and get a free CD

 

New Releases

Naxos Classical



Musicweb sells the following labels
Acte Préalable
(THE Polish label)
Altus 10% off
Atoll 10% off
CRD 10% off
Hallé 10% off
Lyrita 10% off
Nimbus 10% off
Nimbus Alliance
Prima voce 10% off
Red Priest 10% off
Retrospective 10% off
Saydisc 10% off
Sterling 10% off


Follow us on Twitter

Subscribe to our free weekly review listing
sample

Sample: See what you will get

Editorial Board
MusicWeb International
Founding Editor
   
Rob Barnett
Seen & Heard
Editor Emeritus
   Bill Kenny
Editor in Chief
   Vacant
MusicWeb Webmaster
   David Barker
MusicWeb Founder
   Len Mullenger