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Monday, October 26, 2009

Some Lovely Choral Music from Rheinberger

Joseph RHEINBERGER (1839-1901)

Sacred and Secular Choral Music

Morgenlied [4:49]

Abendlied [2:29]

Warum toben die Heiden [3:03]

Es spricht der Tor in seinem Herzen [3:06]

Adoramus te [3:11]

Ave vivens hostia [3:36]

Salve Regina [3:25]

Dextera Domini [2:36]

Eripe me [3:52]

Missa Sanctissimae Trinitas, Op. 117 [16:40]

Waldblumen, Op. 124 [18:52]

Regensburger Domspatzen

Georg Ratzinger, conductor

Eberhard Kraus, organ

Recorded July 12-15, 1993 at St. Emmeran, Regensburg and at the Tonhalle der Regensburger Domspatzen.

ARS MUSICI 232154 [67:09]

Joseph Rheinberger belongs to that large swathe of composers whom musicologists term “minor masters.” Usually well respected or even famous in their own time, for whatever reason these often prolific and highly skilled craftsmen have failed the test of time. Thanks to the seemingly endless thirst for underperformed or undiscovered works in the digital age, a number of these musicians have made a post-mortem comeback. One such composer is Joseph Gabriel Rheinberger, a man of considerable ability whose refined technique and graceful style might easily compare favorably to that of the early romantics such as Schubert and Schumann and especially Mendelssohn, a composer with whom Rheinberger shared a very similar harmonic language.

Choral and instrumental music shared an equal place in Rheinberger’s output. His deep personal faith is reflected in his many works for the church which include numerous motets and mass settings and a sizeable collection of pieces for the organ. His intimate knowledge of renaissance counterpoint and thorough grounding in classical forms make for a winsome combination in his compositions. Couple his taut formal structure with a delicious harmonic language and you get music that is always pleasing to the ear.

This performance was a pleasant surprise to these ears, ears that as a rule find men and boys choirs a bit of a chore to listen to for very long. Over the years I have found that many a cathedral choir lacks the elements that make for a good choral sound. The boys are often shrill, the men harsh and abrasive and the blend nonexistent. Not so this choir which was initially established in the year 975! Truly deserving of their international reputation, this ensemble sings with a sweet and refined tone and with unanimity of sound that allows these gorgeous harmonies to ring out. This is the kind of music that is just awful if sung out of tune. With its predominance of dominant seventh harmonies and subtle shifts of tonality, one wrong turn can lead to an intonation disaster. Maestro Ratzinger shapes lovely phrases and only seldom is there a hint that a third or two might be pushed a little higher.

Highlights in this consistently fine recital include the lovely and contrasting Morgenlied with its joyous and sweeping melodies, and the intimately prayerful Abendlied with its text from the gospel of Luke in which the disciples implore Jesus to remain with them as the night is falling and they are afraid. Also of merit is the compact Missa Sanctissimae Trinitas, a work that is sharply contrasting to the expansive and glorious Cantus missa,(not recorded here) which is scored for double choir and won the composer a special citation from the Pope.

Rheinberger shows the influence of Schubert and Schumann in the charming set of nature poems Waldblumen. These little songs about the birds and the flowers are quite charming indeed, but Ars Musici are most remiss in providing no translations for the texts, an inexcusable act for an international release. That little flaw notwithstanding, this is a delightful collection of music, sure to please casual and serious listeners alike.

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