This performance of Strauss’s Deutsche Motette has the right quality of rapture: written two years after Der Rosenkavalier, it has the soaring ecstacy of that work’s concluding trio spread across most of its 18 minutes. Credit to conductor David Trendell for eliciting that sustained intensity of expression from his combined college choirs, whose youthful timbre imparts a freshness to the interpretation which suits the imprecatory nature of Rückert’s poem perfectly.
Delphian’s recording doesn’t entirely unravel the intricacies of Strauss’s writing (up to 23 parts in places), and seems a touch too closely balanced for comfort. The undulating lower voices at ‘O lass im feuchten Hauch’ are something of a jumble, and it would have been good to hear the soloists more clearly etched against the choral body in the opening paragraph. But the spirit and sheer enjoyability of this technically ferocious piece (Roger Norrington, who recorded it in the 1970s, thought it ‘the hardest choral work, of a tonal nature, ever written’) is admirably registered.
The singers’ youthful vigour also energises the vaulting rhythms in the second and fourth of Schumann’s Vier doppelchörige Gesänge in a bracing fashion, while injecting drama into the potentially arid chorale variation format of Brahms’s O Heiland, reiss die Himmel auf. Both Schubert’s sweetly tuneful setting for women’s voices of Psalm 23 (accompanied on fortepiano), and the plush, cosseting romantic harmonies of Rheinberger’s Abendlied, show the choir is equally capable of sympathetically moulding more placid, lyrically mellifluous music. All told, a rewardingly accomplished recital.