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Anton BRUCKNER (1824-1896)
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Tenebrae/Nigel Short
rec. 2-4 January 2015, Temple Church, London

Tenebrae, one of the finest choirs in Britain, turn their attention to this collection of Brahms and Bruckner, something to which they're ideally suited. British choirs have a distance from this music that means they don't have the baggage of their German counterparts and so can sing it with an airy distance and more of a feel for the lightness in the music, which is there if you look for it. From rich bottom to airy top, Tenebrae find it, suffusing this music with rich beauty and a lovely sense of wholeness. Compare their recordings of Bruckner with those of, say, Eugen Jochum and you'll see what I mean: both marvellous in their own ways, but Tenebrae bring more flexibility and lightness. The richly resonant acoustic of London's Temple Church undoubtedly helps, giving great life to the sound, captured brilliantly by producer Andrew Mellor, whose idea the disc was.

Nigel Short's direction of the choir is first rate. He understands that most of Bruckner's motets are shaped like great arches, and he controls the unfolding structure with great mastery. Virga Jesse grown in power as it develops, its central climax forming a keystone and the concluding Alleluias bright and vigorous. If you're not careful then Ecce sacerdos magnus can be too in-your-face too soon, but Short avoids the feeling of the opening sounding like a yell, and the organ and trombones are integrated into the rest of the texture beautifully. Christus factus est grows forwards from a very quiet opening, and the dark textures of the male voices sound magnificent. Locus iste and Os justi veritably gleam, particularly in the quiet, lower textures, and Bruckner’s Ave Maria sounds significantly more prayerful than that of Brahms, almost throbbing with spiritual intensity, as is his inward Tota pulchra es with its surprising harmonic shifts.

Juxtaposing the Bruckner motets with the Brahms serves to highlight more differences than similarities. Going from the low, quiet ending of Locus iste into Brahms' Fest und Gedenksprüche is like having somebody turn on the light, the texture of the music and the quality of the performance much lighter, and moving with such momentum as almost to skip, until the third number which is slower without being solemn. The Ave Maria for high voices sways convincingly, culminating in a resonant octaves, and the famous How Lovely are thy Dwellings, sung in English, is bright and sunny, with a beautiful soprano line and lovely organ sound. The three motets Op. 110 move with such conviction that they resemble a dramatic narrative, almost like a cantata, while the Geistliches Lied is much more consolatory in tone, very beautifully sung with an effectively restful conclusion.

It's a neat idea to begin and end the disc with Bruckner's two Aequaliae, scored only for three trombones. Their sound is haunting and powerful and, while liturgically significant, they're also very theatrical in these contexts.

Andrew Stewart's booklet note is excellent, and full texts and translations are included. As if all of this wasn't reason enough to welcome this disc, the royalties from the recording are being donated to Macmillan Cancer Support. Why hesitate?

Simon Thompson

Aequalis No.1 Bruckner [1.41]
Virga Jesse Bruckner [3.58]
Ecce sacerdos Bruckner [6.33]
Christus factus est Bruckner [5.55]
Locus iste Bruckner [3.30]
Fest-und Gedenkspruche, Op.109 i. Unsere Vater hofften auf dich Brahms [2.07]
Fest-und Gedenkspruche, Op.109 ii. Wenn ein starker Gewappneter Brahms [2.58]
Fest-und Gedenkspruche, Op.109 iii. Wo ist ein so herrlich Volk Brahms [4.59]
Os justi Bruckner [5.04]
Ave Maria, Op.12 Bruckner [4.39]
How Lovely are thy Dwellings Bruckner [6.22]
Ave Maria Bruckner [4.05]
Tota pulchra es Bruckner [5.50]
Drei motetten, Op.110 i. Ich aber bin elend Brahms [3.38]
Drei motetten, Op.110 ii. Ach, arme Welt Brahms [2.04]
Drei motetten, Op.110 iii. Wenn wir in hochsten, Noten sein Brahms [3.30]
Geistliches Lied, Op.30 Brahms [5.54]
Aequalis No.2 Bruckner [1.44]



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