- Arminius, oratorio for soloists, chorus & orchestra, Op. 43
Max Bruch: Arminiusby Hermann Max
Max Bruch's oratorio "Arminius," published as his Op. 43, is an elephantine and operatic work on the subject of Arminius -- also called Hermann or Armin -- who led a unified force of Germanic tribes to a decisive victory over three legions of Roman forces in the Battle of the Teutoborg Forest in 9 A.D. This historic event, in which between 15-20,000 Roman soldiers were killed, has long served as a stimulus to the spirit of Germanic patriotism, and just as Bruch began this work -- one of five oratorios that he composed -- interest in Arminius was at its peak; a giant statue of Arminius in the Teutoborg Forest begun with private funds in 1839 had just been completed, and Germany itself was in a politically unified state such as never known before owing to their successful prosecution of the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. Germany had reason to feel good, and Bruch was providing the party favors by drawing up this massive edifice, scored for three soloists, chorus, orchestra, and organ. It was first heard in 1877; not in Germany, curiously, but in Zurich, and was an immediate success that was widely revived throughout German-speaking lands, heard in England and even in the United States. However, "Arminius" had lost its musical currency by 1900; the innovations of Wagner -- which Bruch detested -- had taken hold and Bruch's sturdy, solidly romantic oratorio would lay fallow until revived in this 2009 NDR 1 recording, made by the Rheinische Kantorei and the Göttinger Symphonie Orchester under Hermann Max. First of all, Bruch's music is totally great; there's not a dull moment anywhere in "Arminius." It is rousing, heroic, compelling, and follows a libretto that makes strong dramatic hay of its distant historical event in musical terms that certainly would have caused the sun to shine for its intended audience. The orchestration is thrilling, the choral writing bountiful, and the soloists here put over their parts in an effective way without overdoing it. Max of course is best known for conducting Baroque music, but in this two-disc set Max decisively puts his best foot forward. The big issue here -- and it's an issue so big that it's almost equal to the size of the statue of Arminius in the Teutoborg forest -- is the heritage of the Nazi period and general attitudes toward celebrating German military strength and might. Not only this, but also misconceptions about Bruch himself; as composer of the popular "Kol Nidrei for cello and orchestra," his name and seemingly Jewish appearance in old photographs, a lot of listeners think Bruch was Jewish and would wonder why he would undertake such a property as Arminius. The liner notes to the CD decide to take the high road and do not bother to address the fact that Bruch was not Jewish but a patriotic German and that in the 1870s the two were not viewed as mutually exclusive, at least not universally anyway. This is yet another conundrum owing to the culture of the 19th century being viewed through eyes educated in the 20th; if you can make it through all of these hurdles, then you will find "Arminius" as compelling and enjoyable as, say, Tchaikovsky's "1812 Overture," except that "Arminius" is much longer and contains a lot more singing. It's not so long, however, to fully fill the two CDs that contain it; the first disc runs 57 minutes and the second only 32, so those who value "music-by-the-yard" might find this CPO set of less than optimum value.
- Release Date:
- Cpo Records
Performance CreditsHermann Max Primary Artist
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