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Max REGER (1873-1916)
Works for Men's Choir - Volume 2
Zehn gesänge für Männerchor, Op.83 (1904/1909/1912) [40:46]
An Zeppelin, WoO VI/21 (1909) [3:49]
Zwölf Madrigale bearbeitet für Männerchor (1900) (arrs. of Hassler, Donati, Lully, Morley,
M Praetorius, Meyland) [31:04]
Hoch lebe dies Haus WoO VIII/7 (1903) [0:18]
Ensemble Vocapella Limburg/ Tristan Meister
rec 2016/17, St Nikolaus, Dehrn, Germany
German texts included

Quite regardless of repertoire or recording, it only took ten seconds of hearing the first track of this album to convince me that the Ensemble Vocapella Limburg are one of the most wonderfully pure and expressive male choirs I have ever heard. Their sound is immediate, warm and extraordinarily refined. To my shame this group had utterly eluded my notice until exposure to this disc, their conductor Tristan Meister had registered, somewhere; I was drawn to the disc by my interest in Reger, whose music, at best, I find electrifying and at worst dry, academic and somewhat unlistenable; although the spate of excellent recordings issued in the last three or four years in the lead up to his centenary and beyond has convinced me that this is less down to Reger himself and more to do with a tangible lack of commitment by performers on older recordings who have seemed hell-bent on confirming the old self-fulfilling prophecy of Reger’s music being staid, over-composed and ultimately soulless and perfunctory.

If ever that notion needed challenging, the present disc triumphantly throws down the gauntlet. This superb choir, and an amazingly warm (but not overly resonant), detailed and sympathetic production utterly bury the old Reger stereotype. The ten items that constitute the Op.83 set seem to alternate between the chromatic and the diatonic, and across repeated hearings the sophisticated close harmonies of the more complex items (odd numbered tracks in the main) take on the inevitability and directness of the more folk- styled even numbers. The result is a wonderfully varied yet coherent cycle.

If one is unfamiliar with the medium of a lied sung by men’s chorus, the opening An das Meer will amaze. While Reger’s reputation for elaborate chromaticism precedes him, this piece displays a calm opulence to which it is impossible not to surrender. It is beautifully rendered by this outstanding choir. The third number Abendständchen features a graceful baritone solo, delightfully sung by an uncredited member of the group. The personnel list printed in the booklet suggests it is 32 strong (14 tenors plus 18 basses}. The sense of concentration among these singers throughout this disc is palpable - they produce an alluring blend of crystalline clarity. There is absolutely nothing workaday here; the shape of each song, its particular dynamic shifts and tempi have clearly been deeply considered by Herr Meister. While such intensive preparation can often lead to mannered and tentative interpretation, the naturalness and purity here is breathtaking. I have often read critiques of Reger which focus at length on his apparently cumbersome technical methods: those responsible for them can’t see the wood for the trees. But I suspect in some cases those critics have already made their mind up about this composer and so they’re not really looking for it. These songs are all unfailingly beautiful and often move to the point of tears, or at least they do in these performances. I write these words at the end of a personally traumatic week where I have lost a beloved cat; this was the last disc to which we listened together before his cruel and untimely demise and I have been quite unable to play any music in the six days that have since elapsed. I have wasted no time in acquiring a new kitten; within 36 hours of her arrival at Hanlon Towers she is fast asleep on my shoulder purring as I listen again to the jewel in the crown of this cycle, a nine minute unaccompanied Requiem to a text by Friedrich Hebbel. It is twilit, hibernal and perfect, and it would take a hard heart indeed not to respond to its sheer beauty especially in this rapt performance and in the emotional context in which I find myself.

Following the frankly odd An Zeppelin there is a performance of a collection of twelve madrigals by various European masters of the form arranged (in German) by Reger for mens’ voices. Some items will be more familiar than others – composers include Hassler, Lully, Donati and intriguingly Thomas Morley. It is quite something to hear Now is the Month of Maying (Nun strahlt der Mai den Herzen- actually designated Tanzlied here) rendered by this superb choir in German. English music lovers will also inevitably recognise the Altfranzösisches Tanzlied – it’s the Pavane from Warlock’s Capriol Suite. The whole collection is performed with great style and affection.

My colleague Stuart Sillitoe thoroughly enjoyed the first volume of this two disc series and designated it a Recording of the Month (review). I can only endorse his comments about the choir and the wonderfully natural recording. While I haven’t yet heard the first disc I will be wasting no time in seeking it out. If listeners have been put off Reger in the past by his somewhat dry academic reputation, I can only hope that my words here will encourage them to dip their toes in the water with this disc. It is a really good place to start exploring this composer and a superb disc in itself.

Richard Hanlon
10 Gesänge, Op. 83:
No. 1 An das Meer[5:19]
No. 2 Lieblich hat sich gesellet [2:38]
No. 3 Abendständchen [2:30]
No. 4 Husarendurchmarsch [2:57]
No. 5 Hochsommernacht [3:10]
No. 6 Eine gantz neu Schelmweys [2:43]
No. 7 Minnelied [2:27]
No. 8 Freude soll in deinen Werken sein [5:51]
No. 9 Abschied [3:59]
No.10 Requiem [9:12]

An Zeppelin, WoO 4, No. 21 [3:49]

12 Madrigalen (arr Reger for Mens’ Choir)
Hassler, H L(1564-1612):
Ach Schatz, ich sing und lache [4:14]
Feinslieb, du hast mich gfangen [1:36]
Mehr Lust und Freud [2:36]
Jungfrau, dein schön Gestalt [3:57]
Donati, B (1525-1603)
Villanella alla Napolitana [2:46]
Altfranzösisches Tanzlied [1:54]
Lully, J-B (1632-87)
Liebe droht auf allen Wegen [2:14]
Tanz-Chor [1:38]
Morley, T (1557-1602)
Frühling umstrahlt ihr Antlitz zart [2:50]
Tanzlied [2:13]
Praetorius, M (1571-1621)
Sie ist mir lieb [2:30]
Meyland, J (1542-1577)
Herzlich tut mich erfreuen [2:36]
Hoch lebe dies Haus, WoO VIII,No 7 [0:18]



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