musica Dei donum

CD reviews

Musica Divina: motets by Schütz, Schein, Homilius, JS Bach, Duda, Draeseke, Mendelssohn-Bartholdy, Brahms, Bruckner, Hessenberg and Reger

Dresdner Kreuzchor
Dir: Roderich Kreile
rec: April 1997, Dresden, Lukaskirche
DGG 453 484-2 (1.16')

JS Bach: Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf (BWV 226); Brahms: Schaffe in mir, Gott, ein reines Herz, op. 29,2; Bruckner: Os justi; Draeseke: Der 93. Psalm, op. 56; Duda: Friede über Israel, op. 25,3; Hessenberg: Herr, mache mich zum Werkzeug deines Friedens, op. 37,1; Homilius: Domine, ad adiuvandum me; Herr, wenn Trübsal da ist; Mendelssohn- Bartholdy: Jauchzet dem Herrn, alle Welt; Reger: Nachtlied, op. 138,3; Schein: Der 116. Psalm; Schütz: Geistliche Chormusik: Die Himmel erzählen die Ehre Gottes (SWV 386), Das ist je gewißlich wahr (SWV 388)

This CD contains a cross section of German sacred choral music from the 17th to the 20th century. All pieces are performed a capella. All music is by composers who in some way or another are related to the choir, some because they worked in Dresden, some because this choir has given much attention to their music over the years. The Dresden Kreuzchor performs this music on a regular basis, and that is reflected in the high standard of performance, both technically and in interpretation.
All sections of the choir are equally good - here we don't find vibrato-less boys' voices alongside wobbly tenors and basses. Although the choir is quite large, the sound is crisp and clear, and has the flexibility the music asks for.
Another aspect which is impressive is the intonation. In particular Bach's motets are not easy in this respect, but the 'Kreuzianer' pass the test with flying colours.

Let me say something about the programme.
In vocal music of the baroque - in particular in German music - the text comes first. Therefore phrasing and articulation deserve utmost attention. The pieces by Schütz and Schein are very well done in this respect. Just listen to a line like "Ich kam in Jammer und Not" (I found trouble and sorrow) from Schein's setting of Psalm 116. It shows how much attention Schein gave to the text he was setting to music, and also how well the choir and its conductor realise the importance of Schein's intentions. Schütz is another example of a composer who had a very detailed knowledge of the text. He even learnt Hebrew to be able to understand what the texts of the Old Testament were about. The performance of the 18th century pieces by Bach and his pupil Homilius show how much changed in that time. Bach is in fact following in Schütz' footsteps by writing polyphonic music and giving a lot of attention to every detail of the text. Homilius tries to create a general atmosphere, in which not every aspect of the text is reflected in the music. His two pieces are pleasant to hear, and especially the second piece is anything but superficial. As far as Bach's motet is concerned, although the interpretation is generally good, I would have liked a sharper articulation, in particular in the closing chorale.

The pieces by Mendelssohn, Brahms and Bruckner are well known, and often sung by boys' choirs all over the world, but I don't think they always get the great performance the Kreuzchor delivers here. The works by Reger and Draeseke are from the late 19th century - and although I am neither particularly familiar with nor very fond of this kind of music the performances by the Kreuzchor made quite an impression on me.

There are also two compositions from the 20th century. Kurt Hessenberg's motet Herr, mache mich zum Werkzeug deines Friedens uses the famous words by Saint Franciscus of Assisi ("O Lord, make me the agent of your peace") and Jörg Duda sets verses from Psalm 122 to music ("I was glad when they said unto me: Let us go into the house of the Lord"). This is certainly not music I like to listen to regularly. But as far as I can say it is a well-written piece, which closes with the men singing "Friede".

This CD impressively shows that a choir of boys and men isn't only an indispensable tool to perform music specifically written for them - basically almost all pre-romantic church music - but is also a unique form of art in itself.

Johan van Veen (© 2000)

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