When the Jewish Austrian composer Marcel Tyberg was arrested by the Gestapo at his Italian home in 1944 it did not come as a shock. Concerned for the safety of his music, Tyberg had already entrusted his scores to a friend, Dr Milan Mihich. Tyberg himself died in Auschwitz later that year but his music survived, and in the 1980s began to re-emerge in America, thanks to the efforts of Mihich’s son, now in possession of the manuscripts. Two of Tyberg’s symphonies as well as some chamber works have already been recorded by the Buffalo Philharmonic and JoAnn Falletta (Naxos, A/13), and now it’s the turn of two of Tyberg’s Masses, recorded here for the first time by the South Dakota Chorale.
Where Tyberg’s symphonies are bittersweet affairs, charged with post-Romantic angst and occasional flashes of Shostakovich-like violence, his Masses are more nostalgic, fitting squarely into the Romantic Austro-Germanic mould of Bruckner and Rheinberger. Both Tyberg’s Masses, No 1 in G and No 2 in F, are grand, festal works, large on impact and low on intricacy. Unisons and choral homophony dominate, broken up by the occasional fugal episode.
An unexpectedly delicate choral Benedictus is the highlight of the Mass in G, as well as the charged opening mezzo solo of the sombre Agnus Dei (eternal peace, for Tyberg, is by no means a guarantee), and both ‘Hosannas’ are climactic affairs, well served here by organist Christopher Jackson and the organ of the First-Plymouth Congregational Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. The more emotionally expansive Mass in F is the more appealing work, lively with melodic invention, though still lacking the distinctive voice of the symphonies. The episodic Gloria, with its solo interjections and ensembles, is strikingly dramatic, and the lulling Sanctus gently attractive.
Directed by Brian A Schmidt, the South Dakota Chorale give exemplary performances – full-toned, carefully balanced and with just enough spin on the sound to keep the unisons interesting. Whether, however, it will be enough to persuade other ensembles to follow suit and explore Tyberg’s functional but oddly anonymous choral works remains to be seen.