Schumann, G Jerusalem, du hochgebaute Stadt
The name of Georg Schumann will be unfamiliar to most readers. He spent 50 years as director of the Berlin Sing-Akademie, the choir of which he described, when he first conducted them in 1900, as “extraordinarily musical”. He composed some music for organ and two piano quintets, but the vast bulk of his output was for this Berlin choir. A disc of earlier choral pieces appeared in 2001 on ASV (also performed by the Purcell Singers under Mark Ford) but, as the booklet-notes tell us, the two works recorded here “crowned his a cappella output”.
This is gorgeous music; harmonically luxuriant and richly expressive, the musical language firmly rooted in late German Romanticism but concise enough that nothing seems extravagant or superfluous. Accordingly the Purcell Singers come up with sumptuous performances, impressive in their breadth and tonal range. Ford paces things just right so that we can savour the opulence of the sound without any hint of over-indulgence, and his dynamic control is, at times, quite miraculous; there is a spellbinding diminuendo after 9'15" in “Sollt ich meinem Gott nicht Singen?” from the Op 75 motets, followed by an equally breathtaking crescendo.
These are not all a cappella works; one motet in each set has instrumental accompaniment. In the case of Op 75 it is “Mit Fried und Freud”, where distant timpani underpin a mystical chorale from the men’s voices while Geraldine McGreevy floats ethereally above a solemn brass chorus. Rich and lovely as that is, it pales into insignificance besides the riveting and majestic setting of “Wachet auf” from the Op 71 set. The sheer splendour of this is perfectly captured in the superb Guild recording.
Readers for whom the name Georg Schumann remains unfamiliar after listening to this hugely impressive disc only have themselves to blame.