Brahms: Choral works, Opp. 17, 42, 103, 104 & 112

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COMPOSERS: Brahms
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: Choral works, Opp. 17, 42, 103, 104 & 112
PERFORMER: Danish National Radio Choir/Stefan Parkman; Bengt Forsberg (piano), Caitriona Yeats (harp), Per McClelland Jakobsen, Leif Lind (horn)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9806
Throughout his life, Brahms worked regularly with choirs and composed much music for them. Little of it is well known, but as this collection proves, it is far too good to be left only to specialists. The selection here ranges from the deeply Romantic Three Songs, Op. 42, of 1859/61 to the Six Quartets, Op. 112, of 1888/91, the latter combining evanescent, autumnal expressions of resignation with gentle gypsy song in Brahms’s most relaxed Hungarian mode.

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These, and the set of Gypsy Songs, Op. 103, could do with more joie de vivre (or its Hungarian equivalent), but elsewhere the choral singing is clean and direct, though the tone of the upper voices is sometimes cloudy and their intonation not impeccable. Conductor Stefan Parkman shapes phrases well and moves the music along in springy fashion, but the performances suffer from sound that is insufficiently immediate and not as well separated as it might be. The piano in the accompanied Six Quartets, Op. 112, registers feebly.

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But there are many gems, notably the magical combination of voices with harp and two horns in the Four Songs, Op. 17 – four reflective early pieces that capture the essence of Romanticism despite some rather ordinary horn playing. George Hall