LABELS: Proud Sound
WORKS: Motets: Friede auf Erden
PERFORMER: Schola Cantorum of Oxford/Jeremy Summerly
CATALOGUE NO: PROU CD 131 DDD
This is a thoughtfully planned programme of Austro-German choral music from three centuries, through most of which runs the influence of ‘old father Bach’. His three funeral motets for double choir are perhaps the most complex works on this recording, their dense counterpoint demanding the utmost precision and clarity. The Schola gives a valiant attempt, though individual lines want focus, and the basses, in particular, need greater presence.
More successful are the motets of Mendelssohn and Brahms, works which lean heavily on Bach, though the part-writing is less intricate. Ensemble and intonation are not always perfect here, but Summerly’s phrasing is beautifully shaped, giving a fine sense of direction to each piece. To close, the Schola offers Schoenberg’s Christmas motet Friede auf Erden, a work that proved so difficult for the Philharmonic Choir at its first performance that the composer was forced to provide it with an instrumental accompaniment to keep the singers at pitch. Here it is performed a cappella, and though there are moments when the singers seem too stretched, they do capture the ecstasy of this piece, one of the last of Schoenberg’s tonal compositions.