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Abbé VOGLER: Requiem - Franz Joseph HAYDN: Te Deum

Roswitha Schmelzl, sopranob; Dominika Hirschler, contraltob; Michael Mogl, tenorb; Wolf Matthias Friedrich, bassb
orpheus chor münchenab; Neue Hofkapelle Münchenab
Dir: Gerd Guglhör

rec: Nov 7 - 11, 2008, München-Sendling, Himmelfahrtskirche
Oehms Classics - OC 922 (© 2009) (66'36")

Franz Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809): Te Deum in C (H XXIIIc,2)a; Georg Joseph (Abbé) VOGLER (1749-1814): Großes Requiem in E flatb

In all periods of music history there is still repertoire to discover. That certainly goes for the decades around 1800, where so many composers are overshadowed by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. It is fair to say that many of their colleagues can hardly compete with them, but that doesn't mean all of them have to be neglected. Another reason why so many composers of that time are ignored could be that someone like Mozart often had quite negative things to say about them, and that may have influenced modern perceptions of their oeuvre.

Georg Joseph Vogler, better known as Abbé Vogler, was one of them. Mozart wrote that Vogler thought much of himself but couldn't do much. There is no reason to believe him before having heard some of his music. But even today the critics are divided: David Hurwitz in ClassicsToday gave a mostly positive judgment about Vogler's Requiem which is recorded here, whereas a German critic gave a rather negative assessment. I agree with Hurwitz that this Requiem is an interesting addition of the repertoire. More about that later; first something about Abbé Vogler.

Vogler was born in Würzburg as son of an instrument maker. During his years as a student at Würzburg University he started to compose ballet and theatre music for performances at the university. His first post was that of almoner at the court of Mannheim. He received the opportunity to travel to Italy to widen his musical horizon. After his return to Mannheim he was appointed second Kapellmeister and founded a music school. He also published a number of books on music. After the removal of the court to Munich in 1778, he stayed for a while in Mannheim, and then started to travel. In the next decades he restlessly travelled through Europe, and although he occupied several posts, for instance in Munich and Stockholm, it couldn't bring his wanderlust to a halt. He spent some time in the major musical centres of Europe, like Paris, London, Prague and Vienna, and even travelled to the Mediterranean region to examine the traditions of modal singing. Vogler has become mainly known as a theorist and as teacher of Carl Maria von Weber and Giacomo Meyerbeer.

Vogler was also active as a composer, but he didn't earn universal praise from his colleagues. Mozart wasn't the only one who criticised him, but on the other hand, he enjoyed praise from his patrons, and a number of his compositions, in particular works for the theatre, went down well with the audiences. His output is vast, but only very little of it has been performed and recorded in modern times. Every reason, therefore, to welcome this recording of his Großes Requiem in E flat.

The programme notes don't tell very much about the work itself; not even the instrumental scoring is given. What strikes me is, first of all, that Vogler uses the various instruments and instrumental colours very well. That is, for instance, the case in 'Quantus tremor', and the following section, 'Tuba mirum', which returns - with some changes - in the 'Dum veneris' in the last section, 'Absolutio ad tumbam'. Here trumpets are used in a traditional antiphonal way, and in this recording split between the right and left channel. There are some movements with a prominent bassline, like 'Te decet hymnus (1)', and also the first Agnus Dei, which starts with a beautiful short solo for the cello. Trombones and timpani play a prominent role in the 'Dies irae'.

Vogler also very effectively makes use of dynamics. The opening 'Requiem aeternam' begins piano, which is then followed by a strong crescendo on the words "dona eis". Not surprisingly, the 'Dies irae' is dominated by heavy chords in choir and orchestra. 'Lux aeterna' ends piano on "eis" which is preceded by a general pause. In 'Libera me' dynamic contrasts are appropriately used to express the phrase "tremens factus sum ego et timeo".

The soloists don't have that much to do. There are several short passages for the four solo voices, but their main episode is the Benedictus, in which they sing a capella. Only the bass has an extended solo passage to sing, first in 'Tuba mirum', and then in the last section in 'Dum veneris', which contains largely the same material as 'Tuba mirum'.

Remarkable is the Kyrie: "Te decet hymnus" is sung on the melody of the chorale 'O Haupt, voll Blut und Wunden', with the sopranos and tenors alternating. Then the choir sings the text again on free melodic material, whereas the wind play the chorale melody.

All in all I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this Requiem, and I think it is an important addition to the catalogue. Gerd Guglhör has made some nice recordings in the past, and here he again doesn't disappoint. The Neue Hofkapelle München is a first-class ensemble, and it gives a colourful reading of the orchestral score. The orpheus chor münchen is an amateur ensemble, but of considerable capabilities. The booklet says that the choir consists of about 55 singers. That is not to say that they are all involved in these performances. But if they are, that could well reflect the historical circumstances, as in the early 19th century choral societies of considerable size started to come into existence. The sound is good, but I would have liked a little more transparency. The text isn't always clearly audible. The soloists do a fine job; their voices blend well, which is especially important as they are mostly singing in ensemble. Wolf Matthias Friedrich sings his part beautifully.

The disc opens with one of Haydn's most popular choral works, a setting of the Te Deum, a beautiful piece which is given a good performance. But this is not the main reason to recommend this disc as there are certainly better recordings available. It is Vogler's Großes Requiem in E flat which deserves attention, and I am looking forward to the forthcoming recording of another Requiem, also directed by Gerd Guglhör.

Johan van Veen (© 2010)

Relevant links:

orpheus chor münchen
Neue Hofkapelle München

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