BRAHMS; BRUCKNER Motets
Without a full complement of sopranos ready to hurl out and sustain high Cs, a choir preparing to record Bruckner may as well pack up and go home. Basses must likewise anchor the motets with steady low Cs and Ds. The advantages of a small professional choir in this music are therefore evident, provided they are not so small in number or soloistic in timbre as to let individual voices obtrude. Happily, Tenebrae score on all counts. They submit with impressive stamina and unfailing intonation to Bruckner’s instrumental scoring and phrasing, which take little account of singers’ requirements for rest and oxygen.
In his spacious pacing and carefully moulded phrasing, Nigel Short reveals the thematic links to the symphonies in Virga Jesse and Ecce sacerdos. The results make hardly less awesome an impact than the ‘symphonic’ recordings by the Bavarian Radio Choir and Eugen Jochum, and with notably greater technical finesse. The greater stress placed by Brahms on inner-part movement is reflected in supple accounts of his two late motet triptychs with a refreshingly full-blooded approach to consonants.
The Schubertian heritage common to both composers reveals itself in contradistinctive ways: harmony in Bruckner, melody in Brahms. Here I feel the Brahms performances, impressive on their own terms, are writ too large for their form. The codas of both the Geistliches Lied and ‘How lovely are thy dwellings’ are long and lovely but stretched beyond the point of affectionate memory which was the stimulus for the album, explained by its producer Andrew Mellor in a touching introduction. A pair of Bruckner’s Aequali frame the programme, nobly done by three London orchestral trombonists and recorded to take full advantage of the acoustic of London’s Temple Church.