Bruckner Motets

Bruckner’s motets are a treat for singers and listeners alike

Author: 
Malcolm Riley

BRUCKNER Motets

For those who like their Bruckner in bite-size (though perfectly formed), easily-digestible morsels, his motets are well worth exploring. Several have become mainstays of the repertoire, in particular the sublime (and deceptively difficult) Locus iste for SATB a cappella and the sinewy Inveni David for male voices (accompanied by a trio of trombones), but much of this corpus is little known, either by singers or the general listener.

What treasures they are – offering an important insight into Bruckner’s devotional life as well as his fixation with death, exemplified by the early pair of Totenlieder. The range of harmony and melody and the breadth of emotions are more varied than one might expect from a composer who took the Cecilian’s neo-Gregorian, reformist philosophy so closely to heart. From the austerity of the Libera me of 1854, through the symphonic breadth of the Ecce sacerdos (1885), to his last great motet, the Good Friday hymn Vexilla regis of 1892, we can but marvel at the abundant contrasts of texture, the “singability” of his vocal lines and the affirmation of the texts. Bruckner’s occasional use of trombones adds a weighty punch to several of the motets (the two non-vocal Aequale for three trombones is a bonus). The Edinburgh singers perform with a robust though polished fervour. Alto, tenor and bass lines are beyond reproach, while the mixed-sex treble line copes admirably with exposed writing. The recorded sound is first-class, capturing both voices and instruments (including some excellent organ-playing) with an engaging immediacy.

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