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How much of Richard Strauss's choral music do you know? I thought so. You can get a taste of this rarely-heard facet of the composer's craft in this recording by the always-dependable choral ensemble Accentus. The recording presents a sampling of works, from the early Zwei Gesänge, Op. 34 (1897) to the male voice choir Traumlicht, Op. 123 No. 2 (1935), written when Strauss was struggling with the difficulty of his having his opera Die schweigsame Frau staged - the "jewishness" of its librettist Stephan Zweig was the issue.
The centerpiece of the program is the Deutsche Motette, a lush 1913 work for SATB soloists and sixteen-part choir. Set to a text by Friederich Rückert, the Deutsche Motette is hair-raisingly difficult and requires an overall compass of four complete octaves. For nearly 20 minutes the choirs - Accentus is augmented by the Lativian Radio Choir - sing an unaccompanied line that has its fill of harmonic wiggling and some flat-out gorgeous melodies. It certainly reminds me of the symphonic Strauss.
Accentus acquits itself quite well. Tonal quality and blend are near-ideal and the fact that they stay in pitch in the Deutsche Motette is quite a feat in itself. These are well-sung performances but there are some issues that keep this from being a revelation. I find an emotional coolness in these performances that drops things below the usual standard I've expected from Accentus. At times the choir actually sounds under-nourished and makes me wish for more body and a lot more volume. There are also some pretty obvious extraneous noises - do I actually hear somebody walking with creaking shoes? If you can get over these concerns you will enjoy this recording of some of Strauss's most fetching music.
Posted October 1, 2010
This is a delightful cd of Strauss choral works-all with poetry by Friedrich Rückert. The music itself is bathed in spiritual overtones from the ethereal sound of the sixteen voice choir. The Deutsche Motette is a choral work scored for twenty real voice parts (sixteen for the choir, plus SATB soloists) and is thus rarely performed or recorded because of the technical difficulties it requires of the singers. The singers must have very keen ears and extended vocal ranges to perform this piece. It is well executed by the Latvian Radio Choir and soloists. Particularly enchanting was the performance by Canadian soprano, Jane Archibald. With operatic roles such as Zerbinetta, Queen of the Night, and Olympia under her belt, she fits right into the realm of coloratura that Strauss asks of the soprano in this piece. Other delights of the disc include Hymne-based on the passage from Genesis in which Jacob laments as he hopes for the return of his favorite son Joseph.
Though this disc may not be for the regular choral listener, it is definitely one for those who are looking for technical and vocal prowess from a choir and soloists! Definitely recommended for those with a refined listening ear. While I didn't have any emotional attachment to the music itself, I was quite impressed with the performances of these works.