If Bruckner's symphonies are his most gargantuan, sweeping works, then his motets can easily be named among the simplest. This is not to deny the myriad of different emotions they bring, given that these works are some of the most ostensibly devotional works to come out of Bruckner's musical period, let alone his own oeuvre. Late Romantic, devotional music does tend to make us think of rather more northern spheres than the German soil Bruckner trod, and so it does not seem unconventional at all for the Latvian Radio Choir to be recording such music today.
Listen — Bruckner: Pange lingua
(track 15, 0:01-0:45) ℗ 2020 SLLC Latvijas Koncerti :
For this disc does give almost everything one could need, if you happen to be the kind of person for intense, big-chord, ethereal religious music at this time of year. But if some of the music does seem superficially simplistic, it takes only the best choirs to truly capture the spirit and contrasts of this music, and to effectively bring to life Bruckner's setting of what can become seemingly motionless texts without care.
The contrast of the more homophonic and polyphonic sections is shown in perhaps its most amiable style in the opening Os Justi from 1879. This is more dramatically shown in Christus factus est of 1884, one of the most masterful pieces on this disc.
Listen — Bruckner: Christus factus est
(track 2, 0:01-0:54) ℗ 2020 SLLC Latvijas Koncerti :
Starting at a solemnly low register, the gradual climbs up and down seem to create an image of the steps from where the title of 'Graduale' was originally sung in church. The sharp dissonances and flowing chromatic passages here speak of the 'death on the cross' and the 'name above all names' which the text gives to Christ. It is performed superbly by the singers, with each new note and articulation relished, as if adding another nail to the cross.
Locus iste is the most well-known of these pieces, and its expression of Christ's 'irreproachability' becomes vividly clear in the hesitating pianissimo music of the higher voices. The continual repetition of 'a deo factus est' is brought out plaintively by the chromaticism of the different parts, before the perfect cadence resolution seems to resolve all of the uncertainly littered phrases which came before.
Listen — Bruckner: Locus iste
(track 3, 2:21-3:09) ℗ 2020 SLLC Latvijas Koncerti :
The lesser known Kronstorfer Messe owes much to the mass settings which came before it, and seems reminiscent of the music of Rheinberger from around the same time, and even has some Mozartian turns to it. Yet, coming from Bruckner's early career, it is overly simplistic as a complete piece, and the different movements do not give much for the singers to make great variation with.
Listen — Bruckner: Agnus Dei (Kronstorfer Messe)
(track 3, 0:00-0:50) ℗ 2020 SLLC Latvijas Koncerti :
The three different iterations of the Tantum ergo prayer show Bruckner in his homophonic element, with the hymnic qualities of the music giving scope for Bruckner's shimmering harmonies and developments, although by the time the third one comes around one feels as though the effect has been felt already, and the similar musical characteristics start to feel less revelatory, despite the efforts of the choir.
Virga Jesse of 1885 shows Bruckner at his compositional height with the choral medium, with the combination of contemplation and tantalising structures creating a climax at each new phrase, as the swarming harmonies lead to the great climax at 'Deus reddidit', although this could have been carried off more powerfully by the choir, with each new phrase seeming to come naturally, rather than in the almost disjointed structure which Bruckner wrote.
Listen — Bruckner: Virga Jesse floruit
(track 14, 0:01-0:49) ℗ 2020 SLLC Latvijas Koncerti :
I think it to be little coincidence that this disc has been released as the cold air seeps in and the nights grow longer; yet it would be a gross implication to label this music as merely contemplative or effete in its simplicity. Here are some of the most enchanting and powerful works for the choral voices, each a new plea, outpouring, or commendation for the words it evokes.
Copyright © 10 December 2020