Notes and Editorial Reviews
For choral musicians and listeners, 19th century German composer Peter Cornelius is best known for the arrangement of his song Die Könige (also known by the English title The Three Kings), a very attractive work that combines a beautiful solo melody with the chorale How brightly beams the morning star. It's probably sung hundreds if not thousands of times in churches all over the world every Christmas and Epiphany season. But if you do yourself a big favor and get your hands on this recording, you'll discover that Cornelius was far more than a one-hit wonder. These works for a cappella mixed chorus, some with soloists, and the five Trauerchöre Op. 9 for male choir reveal a composer of
considerable expressive range and of high technical accomplishment. Die Könige is here, sung in German, but you'll want to check out other pieces such as Die Vätergruft, a gorgeous Brahmsian setting of a ballade by Johann Uhland, and the set of three choral songs titled Liebe. These last are as charming and tuneful and compelling in their variety of rich choral colors and harmonic effect as any of Brahms' best works in the genre. The same can be said for the male chorus pieces, which deserve serious attention from any such ensemble looking for first-rate repertoire.
Cornelius also is a master at taking an existing work and transforming it into a viable, attractive new choral piece. He does this with Bach's French Suite No. 1 ("Sarabande"), English Suite No. 3 ("Sarabande"), and Partita No. 1 (Minuet)--to which he applies Psalm texts--as well as Schubert's Der Tod und das Mädchen, which becomes a funeral song. Rather than just a gimmick, Cornelius shows how technique and a truly respectful concern for the original can yield musically satisfying results. Technique and a respectful concern for this repertoire also is what characterizes these performances by the English choir Polyphony, directed with finesse and care for detail by Stephen Layton. He and his singers get highly complementary sound engineering that allows us full access to Cornelius' often dense-textured scores. While not everything on the program is as ingratiating as the works mentioned above--there are a couple of pieces that have that "throw in every chromatic/harmonic/modulatory trick I can think of" quality reminiscent of Schoenberg's early choral music, and not nearly as good--but overall this program offers an exciting trip into what for most listeners will be a world of happy discovery. [1/22/2001]
--David Vernier, ClassicsToday.com Read less
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