Performer: Kansas City Chorale, Phoenix Bach Choir
Conductor: Charles Bruffy
Composer: Joseph Rheinberger
SPARS Code: DDD
Number of Discs: 1
Format: FLAC (tracks)
Size: 306 MB
01. Oster-Hymne, Op. 134
02. Anima nostra. Andantino amabile – Adagio
03. Meditabor. Non troppo adagio
04. Laudate Dominum. Maestoso e marcato
05. Angelus Domini. Maestoso
06. 1. Kyrie. Moderato
07. 2. Gloria. Allegro moderato
08. 3. Credo. [ ] – Più mosso
09. 4. Sanctus. Lento
10. 5. Benedictus. Andantino
11. 6. Agnus Dei. Lento – Poco più mosso
12. 1. Morgenlied ‘Die Sterne sind erblichen’. Con moto
13. 2. Hymne ‘Dein sind die Himmel’. Adagio non troppo
14. 3. Abendlied ‘Bleib bei uns’. Andante molto
Gorgeous Unaccompanied Sacred Choral Music, Gorgeously Sung
I’m beginning to sound like a broken record; I fall all over myself praising each new release of music by the combined Kansas City Chorale and Phoenix Bach Choir under the direction of master choir director, Charles Bruffy. Further, their releases have acquainted us with music that is not all that familiar: the Grechaninov ‘Passion Week’, the Martin ‘Mass for Double Choir’, music by Ticheli, Mäntyjärvi and Clausen. And with this release we have an hour of music by Josef Gabriel Rheinberger (1839-1901), Liechtenstein’s most notable composer. He was also a revered teacher whose pupils included Humperdinck, Wolf-Ferrari, Thuille, Furtwängler, and the two American composers, Horatio Parker and George Whitefield Chadwick. Known primarily for his organ and chamber music, Rheinberger composed widely and indefatigably in other genres and wrote a great deal of sacred music. This disc presents possibly his most familiar such work, the Mass in E flat (‘Cantus Missae’), Op. 109, for double choir (SSAATTBB). Rheinberger’s derived his musical style from Palestrina, Bach, Mozart and middle-period Beethoven. He was, obviously, a conservative composer even though he admitted the value of the music of Liszt and Wagner and even helped with musical preparation of the 1867 première of Wagner’s ‘Tristan und Isolde’ at the Munich Court Opera.
The Mass is in six movements — Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei — and was written for liturgical use, not the concert hall. It is highly antiphonal; ideally the two choirs are placed facing each other from galleries at the sides of the church. One can hear, in this CD’s SACD version particularly, the placement of the two choirs. Much of the music is homophonic, placing the two choirs in opposition, but the highly contrapuntal passages intertwine the two forces, making for a particularly delightful aural effect. The work is not dramatic but rather primarily serene; this is especially notable in the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei; the latter is among the most beautiful such settings of that text with which I’m familiar. The mass has been recorded a number of times before (and sometimes with organ accompaniment, but a cappella here as originally written) but I don’t know any of those versions. After hearing this performance I don’t find myself rushing out to buy any of the competing versions.
The other specifically double-choir work included here is the six-minute-long Easter Hymn, Op. 134, which sets two ancient Easter texts: ‘Victimae paschali laudes’ (‘Praises to the Paschal Victim’) and ‘Terra tremuit’ (‘The earth trembled’). The first is meant to be performed in a theatrical presentation of the Easter story at the point where the grave is seen to be empty and the second accompanies the presentation of the communion elements.
For mixed choir are the lovely Four Six-Part Motets, Op. 133, settings of texts from Psalms 124 (‘Our soul is escaped even as a bird’), 119 (‘My delight shall be in they commandments’), and 135 (‘Praise the Lord, who is so gracious’) and from the Gospel of Matthew 28: 2, 5 & 6 (‘An angel of the Lord descended from heaven’). Also for mixed choir are the Three Sacred Songs, Op. 69 (Morning Song, Hymn, Evening Song). The first is to a text by August Heinrich Hoffmann von Fallersleben, the second and third to texts from Psalm 89 and Luke 24:29. They have a rather simpler, almost folk-like sound and are beguilingly lovely.
These two professional choirs, who sing together regularly in both Phoenix and Kansas City in their concert seasons, have an extraordinarily homogeneous blend with eerily impeccable intonation and with particular emphasis on pure vowel sounds. The music they make has an ethereal and yet immensely moving effect. We are indeed fortunate to receive their regular releases — two in the past year, one of which (the Grechaninov) has just been nominated for a Grammy Grechaninov: Passion Week [SACD] — and can only hope that their cooperative ventures continue well into the future.