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Briefly Noted: Choral Music by Herzogenberg

available at Amazon
H. von Herzogenberg, Requiem / Totenfeier, F. Bobe, B. Bräckelmann, Monteverdichor Würzburg, Thüringen Philharmonie Gotha, M. Beckert

(released on July 8, 2014)
cpo 777755-2 | 102'52"

available at Amazon
H. von Herzogenberg, Sacred Choral Music (a cappella), Ensemble Cantissimo, M. Utz

(released on June 10, 2014)
Carus 83.408 | 62'14"
Heinrich von Herzogenberg (1843-1900) is one of those composers on the margins of music history we love to write about here at Ionarts. An aristocratic dilettante who became an accomplished composer, Herzogenberg is generally grouped in the more conservative camp of the late 19th century. His prolific output includes eight symphonies, as well as five string quartets and a pile of other chamber music. A faithful Catholic, he composed a large amount of choral music in German for the Lutheran church in Strasbourg, as well as Latin works for Catholic worship. The style, looking back to J.S. Bach and farther, will appeal to choirs that enjoy the music of Bruckner or Josef Rheinberger, for example.

The Monteverdichor Würzburg and Thüringen Philharmonie Gotha, under conductor Matthias Beckert, have recorded Herzogenberg's setting of the Latin Requiem Mass, premiered in Leipzig in 1891, as well as two other commemorative works for the dead. Herzogenberg's wife, Elisabeth, died in the year following the performance of the Requiem, and he composed the Totenfeier, a Lutheran cantata, in memory of her, a work that contains many personal touches of their life together. (Elisabeth was also a gifted musician, with some published works for piano, also released recently in recording by CPO. Both husband and wife carried on a lengthy correspondence with Johannes Brahms.) Not long after Elisabeth's passing, Herzogenberg's friend Philipp Spitta died, and the composer created the Begräbnisgesang, op. 88, with his own commemorative text, to be performed at the dedication of a stone marker at Spitta's grave.

The Requiem and Totenfeier should be on the radar of any group that wants to perform yet another Mozart, Brahms, or Verdi Requiem. The Requiem is sung entirely by the chorus, with no parts for soloists. It ends on a consoling, celestial tone, with some barn-burning moments earlier in the work, sung here in a good performance by the full-size chorus composed largely of students from the University of Würzburg. By contrast, the Totenfeier has a less liturgical feel, with dramatic movements for bass soloist especially, but also for soprano, the latter sung with radiant tone by soprano Franziska Bobe, a clarity that recalls Arleen Auger at times.

Also released this summer is a new disc of Herzogenberg's unaccompanied choral works, with liturgical texts proper to Advent, Epiphanytide, Holy Week, and Totensonntag (the last Sunday before Advent in the Lutheran liturgy, a day of prayer for the dead akin to All Souls Day), plus the four motets. Almost all of these pieces thus receive their first recording, in rather lovely and balanced performances by a chamber choir called the Ensemble Cantissimo, directed by Markus Utz, a professor at the Zürcher Hochschule der Künste. (Although not packaged as such, this is the sacred followup to the same group's two volumes of Herzogenberg's secular choral music.) The rediscovery of Herzogenberg's music, much of which was thought destroyed when it was held in Germany by the Edition Peters company during World War II, continues at an exciting pace.

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