Distler: Choral-Passion; Totentanz

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COMPOSERS: Distler
LABELS: Globe
WORKS: Choral-Passion; Totentanz
PERFORMER: Nico van der Meel, Bruce Sellers (tenor), Jelle Draijer (baritone), Hans Pootjes, Bas Ramselaar (bass); Netherlands Chamber Choir/Uwe Gronostay
CATALOGUE NO: GLO 5175
Because so much emphasis is currently placed upon the fate of Jewish composers under the Nazis, it is easy to forget that there were some German musicians who also suffered as a result of the repressive policies of the regime. Among those that can be singled out in this respect is Hugo Distler, a highly talented church organist and choral conductor who committed suicide at the age of 34 in 1942, on learning that he had been called up for military service.

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Distler was one of a number of composers allied to the so-called Orgelbewegung, a movement that rejected 19th-century conceptions of liturgical music and advocated a return to the organ sound of the Baroque and pre-Baroque periods. The two large-scale works presented here offer typical examples of the style drawing their inspiration from Bach in the trenchant use of chorale and Schütz in the density of polyphonic argument.

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It’s a tribute to Distler’s mastery and the outstanding singing of the Netherlands Chamber Choir that despite this obvious musical provenance, both works strike an individual voice and sustain one’s interest without the textural variety of an instrumental accompaniment. At the same time, Globe has somewhat undermined the potential attractions of this disc by failing to provide English translations for the lengthy spoken dialogue that forms a crucial part of the Totentanz. Erik Levi