György LIGETI (1923-2006)
Requiem (1963-65) [25:29]
Lux aeterna (1966) [10:28]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Soupir from Trois Počmes de Stéphane Mallarmé (1913) (arr. Clytus Gottwald) [5:11]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Les Angélus (1891) (arr.Gottwald) [3:12]
Des pas sur la neige from Préludes Book I (1910) (arr. Gottwald) [3:55]
Gustav MAHLER (1860-1911)
Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen from Fünf Rückertlieder (1901-04) (arr. Gottwald) [7:28]
Gabriele Hierdeis (soprano); Renée Morloc (alto)
Kammerchor Stuttgart, Danubia Orchestra Óbuda/Frieder Bernius
rec. live Domkirche St. Eberhard, Stuttgart, Germany, 29 March 2006 (Requiem); Ev. Kirche Reutlingen-Gönningen, Germany, 6 February, 1 July and 25 September 1996 (Lux aeterna, Mahler), 7-8 January 2004 (Ravel, Debussy) DDD
Texts included with translations in German and English
CARUS 83.283 [56:16]
The title of this disc is “György Ligeti Requiem,” but it should have been more properly labeled a celebration of Clytus Gottwald. Gottwald, born in 1925, is known primarily as an arranger for vocal ensembles of up to 16 voices. He is also a composer, conductor, and musicologist. Except for the Ligeti Requiem, he had a direct hand in all of the works on this CD. He also contributed an enlightening essay on Ligeti in the accompanying booklet, as well as comments on his own arrangements of the works on this disc.
The Ligeti Requiem is the biggest and arguably the most important piece on the programme. It is one of the most challenging settings of the mass and one of the most difficult to perform.
The Requiem requires a large choir and orchestra and is typical of the microtonal works Ligeti produced in the 1960s. The composer set only four sections of the mass: Introitus, Kyrie, De die judicii sequentia, and Lacrimosa. His famous Lux aeterna, for 16 discrete voices, a cappella, is a separate work that Gottwald commissioned from Ligeti as a sequel shortly after the composition of the Requiem. This new disc is the first to place them together, in sequence, which makes a lot of sense liturgically. The performances here, both vocally and orchestrally, successfully meet the challenges of these Ligeti works with their micropolyphony and dynamic extremes.
I compared this account of the Requiem by Frieder Bernius with those by the London Voices and Berlin Philharmonic under Jonathan Nott, from Teldec’s “Ligeti Project,” and a more recent one by Peter Eötvös with Köln and Stuttgart forces on BMC. All three are very accomplished and should satisfy anyone seeking a recording of the Requiem. They are all live recordings, as far as I can tell. The microphones seem to be placed closer to the musicians for Bernius here. This enhances the clarity of the score, as to vocal diction and the orchestral parts. It also has the widest dynamic range. The vocal soloists, too, are well matched and excel in their demanding roles. The single drawback with such a close recording of a live performance is that extraneous noises, whether emanating from the stage or elsewhere, occasionally intrude on the listener—especially when listening on headphones. This is my only cavil. Overall, this is as fine an account as is currently available. If you already possess the indispensable Ligeti Project, you will want this account of the Requiem primarily as a supplement to the one there.
Lux aeterna also receives a superb performance. The Kammerchor Stuttgart’s tuning is impeccable with the high sopranos’ sustained note at about the 8:00 mark as close to perfection as one can imagine. The choir take longer with this piece than other accounts with which I am familiar, such as the London Voices in Sony’s Ligeti Edition at 8:06 and Cappella Amsterdam under Daniel Reuss at 9:50 (Harmonia Mundi). Yet nothing is unduly protracted and the way the choir can sustain the long lines is little short of amazing. There are no extraneous noises audible in this performance, unlike that of the Requiem.
Clytus Gottwald arranged the other works on the CD employing the choral method of Ligeti, the “technique of composing areas of sound (Klangflächen),” as he describes it in his notes to the CD. Gottwald had organized a workshop in Stuttgart for Pierre Boulez in 1978 that included Ravel’s cycle Trois Počmes de Stéphane Mallarmé, which gave him the idea to transcribe Soupir for chorus. The arrangement works well and leaves one with a melancholy feeling. The piece ends on high pitches that sound for all the world on this recording like flutes, but are really soprano voices! Gottwald scored Debussy’s song Les Angélus for six voices and he successfully captures the bell sounds and sadness of the original for voice and piano. The other Debussy work, Des pas sur la neige, is better known as one of his Preludes for piano. Oboist and composer Heinz Holliger persuaded Gottwald to transcribe the piano piece, but Gottwald was required to find a suitable text. He combined fragments of poems by Rilke and Mallarmé, and the result sounds like a wholly new composition, a true re-creation, poignantly depicting winter and death.
My favourite Mahler song has to be Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen from the five Rückertlieder. I find it so emotionally draining, especially in Janet Baker’s recordings with Sir John Barbirolli on EMI, that it always leaves me limp and near tears by the end. I would find the combination of mezzo-soprano and Mahler’s wondrous orchestration almost impossible to replicate with unaccompanied voices, but Gottwald succeeds and surprisingly convinces me. It will never replace the original for sure, but this 1985 transcription is a viable alternative and something I think many choirs would welcome with open arms. Kammerchor Stuttgart performs it lovingly here.
However, what mystifies me about this disc is why it took Carus so long to release these recordings. Lux aeterna and the Mahler song were issued on Carus in an earlier compilation of choral music, as long ago as 2001, but the rest of this CD’s selections are new—even though the recordings are more than ten years old. Nonetheless, they are worth the wait.