Brahms and Rheinberger

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Brahms and Rheinberger
LABELS: Hyperion
ALBUM TITLE: Brahms and Rheinberger
WORKS: Missa canonica; Motets, Opp. 29
PERFORMER: Choir of Westminster Cathedral/Martin Baker; Matthew Martin (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: CDA 67559
Brahms’s unfinished Mass of

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1856-59 (the name Missa canonica, bestowed not entirely accurately by his friend Grimm, has stuck) was lost for a century and the last of the surviving movements only surfaced in the 1970s. Though he reworked some of the material 20 years later in the first of his Op. 74 Motets, the beauty and sensitivity of the polyphonic choral writing is sufficient for us to rejoice in its rediscovery. Using the optional organ accompaniment provided for Otto Biba’s 1984 edition is questionable – Brahms probably envisaged a cappella performance – but this is nonetheless an eloquent and sympathetically phrased performance of considerable appeal in a pleasantly warm acoustic. It does not, however, displace Marcus Creed’s remarkable performance with the RIAS Chamber Choir, whose enunciation and timbral clarity knocks spots off all the (few) rivals.

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It makes sense to couple the Mass with Brahms’s sacred motets, including the Warum into which portions of the Mass were silently taken up. His early Geistliches Lied and the charming Ave Maria are welcome too. There are several excellent versions of this repertoire, but the Westminster Singers are certainly up there among the best of them. Joseph Rheinberger dedicated a Mass to Brahms, though it wasn’t the E flat Mass for double choir that takes up the rest of the disc – a very fine and sometimes dramatic work from 1878 composed in artistic opposition to the restrictions on church music that the Cecilian movement was seeking to impose. Here I preferred this new Hyperion release, the choir utterly secure in intonation and refulgence, to the competition from the Maine-based Gloria Dei Cantores in their collection of Rheinberger Masses (Paraclete Press). Calum MacDonald