WORKS: Partsongs for male voices, Partsongs for male voices
PERFORMER: Die Singphoniker
CATALOGUE NO: 999 966-2
Like practically every significant composer in Germany and Austria from Schubert to Schoenberg, Strauss and Reger contributed works to the flourishing tradition of male choruses and workers’ choirs which became increasingly important in Germany with the burgeoning sense of national identity in the later 19th century. Like those other composers, this portion of their oeuvre is now virtually forgotten. The choirs in question were often highly accomplished technically, and there was little sense of ‘writing down’. But while these partsongs were originally sung by quite large bodies, they’re presented here by a crack contemporary team of solo voices, never more than six in total. The effect is thus rather madrigalesque, and certainly defines the part-writing more sharply.
Beautifully sung and recorded, then, this is an utterly captivating disc of unfamiliar music, with Strauss’s three Rückert choruses of 1935 and Reger’s exquisite Eichendorff setting ‘Abschied’ taking pride of place. It’s Strauss who has the more varied approach to the medium, with freer polyphony, onomatopoeic effects and a greater range of mood; Reger is generally more strophic and homophonic, the inner parts giving life and direction to his characteristic chromaticism. Both, however, are clear that they are writing sophisticated and expressive Lieder for chorus. Both have recourse to folksong texts and indulge in a certain amount of neo-medievalism. (It’s diverting to find Strauss in ‘Der Gutzgauch’ treating a tune most likely to be familiar to us from Hindemith’s Schwanendreher, and Reger using an altdeutsch melody for a parodic Richard Dehmel poem.) Warmly recommended. Calum MacDonald