Max REGER (1873-1916) Drei Motetten Op. 110 (Mein Odem ist schwach [15:46]; Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht [16:16]; O Tod, wie bitter bist du [9:11]) O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden [17:44]
Sabine Czinczel (mezzo); Johannes Kaleschke (tenor); Natalie Chee (violin); Anne Angerer (oboe); Andreas Rothkopf (organ)
SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius
rec. Funkstudio of SWR Stuttgart, July 2015; Stadkirche, Ludwigsburg, Germany, January 2016 CARUS 83.288 [59:23]
My introduction to the Drei Motetten, and for that matter to the music of Max Reger, came in the form of a gift of an old East German LP on the Eterna label. If my memory serves me, I think it was by the Berlin Radio Chorus. I was smitten. I have since managed to hear the Motets performed live, and have also acquired a very fine CD, also on Carus sung by the NDR Chor Hamburg directed by Hans-Christoph Rademann (83.154). This is now available in their mid-price series (83.326), of which John Quinn said "This is a marvellous disc, which I recommend very strongly indeed." Both these recordings, I think, coupled the motets with the excellent Acht geistliche Gesäng Op.138, a series of lovely spiritual music.
For the Drei Motetten Max Reger turned to J.S. Bach for inspiration, producing some of his most beautiful religious choral music. Composed between 1909 and 1912 the motets are for mixed choir a cappella and have some delicate interaction between the different parts of the chorus. Having seen the score for all three, they seem to be more complex than they sound. Perhaps that is the art of a good chorus and director. In the first of the motets, Mein Odem ist schwach, which is the most modern-sounding of the three, Bernius’ tempo is slightly slower than Rademann’s, not that this makes much difference. It is in the second cantata, Ach Herr, strafe mich nicht! however, where the biggest disparity is found. Bernius’ is again slower, and it may only be by just over a minute, but that minute makes all the difference. The choir gives the music more time to breathe and develop, with the result being mesmeric. In the third and shortest of the motets, O Tod, wie bitter bist du, there is very little between Bernius and Rademann, with Bernius being slightly the quicker.
This present recording differs from the two mentioned above in that it offers the choral cantata O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, which is new to me, instead of the Acht geistliche Gesäng. This was the third of Rger’s five cantatas and was composed in 1904. It makes compelling listening. His intention was to provide “... Lutheran church music with compositions that even the smallest village can perform!” This cantata, or chorale arrangement as Reger described it, was composed to be sung on Good Friday during the passion service. Here it is scored for alto and tenor soloists, four part chorus, organ, violin and oboe. The result is quite beautiful.
I agreed with John Quinn's comment about the Rademann recording that “Reger could not wish for better advocacy than his music receives here.” That was until I heard this new disc. The SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart under Frieder Bernius seems to have the slightest edge over their competitors. Theirs is a recording with a beautiful vocal line and sense of ensemble. When it comes to O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden, both soloists are in fine form, and the instrumentalists lift this work superbly well.
The recorded sound is excellent, especially in the cantata, where the engineers have worked wonders to balance the soloists, chorus and instrumentalists. The notes, as always with Carus, are detailed and aid the listener’s enjoyment of this wonderful music.