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Brahms: Choral Music / Andrew-john Smith, Consortium

Release Date: 05/12/2009 
Label:  Hyperion   Catalog #: 67775   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Christopher Glynn
Conductor:  Andrew-John Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Consortium
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 7 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BRAHMS 6 Songs and Romances, op. 93a. 3 Quartets, op. 64. 1 5 Songs, op. 104. Zigeunerlieder, op. 103. 1 Dem dukeln Schoss der heil’gen Erde Andrew-John Smith, cond; Christopher Glynn (pn); 1 Consortium Read more class="ARIAL12"> HYPERION 67775 (66:33 Text and Translation)

As noted in my 32:2 review of Brahms’s complete works collected together in a 60-CD mega-box from Brilliant Classics, fully 43 percent of the composer’s output consists of vocal music in one form or another—accompanied songs, a cappella quartets, duets, sacred motets, female choruses, the Magelone cycle, the Deutsche Volkslieder, and so on. Brahms’s interest in the voice and his association with amateur choral societies were lifelong passions. By no means was everything he wrote for voices a masterpiece, and very few of these works can vie for popularity with his symphonic, orchestral, and chamber music output. But the sheer volume of material is daunting. For the literary content of these vocal chamber works (for that’s what they are), Brahms draws upon the same sources he turned to for his solo songs—well-known German poets, such as Schiller, Rückert, and Groth, as well as traditional and often anonymous folk-song texts. The subject matter—love, longing, and loss—are common themes, no more so for Brahms than they were for Schubert and Schumann. There is, however, with Brahms the pervasive Gypsy element that comes to the fore in the 11 numbers that comprise the Zigeunerlieder.

The five items that make up this program can be divided into two categories: (1) those with piano accompaniment—the Three Quartets published in 1874 and the aforementioned Zigeunerlieder, a latish work composed in 1887; and (2) the a cappella settings, which include the 1884 Six Songs and Romances for SATB chorus, the 1888 Five Songs for SAATBB chorus, and the part song, Dem dukeln Schoss der heil’gen Erde for SATB chorus, believed to have been written around 1880 or earlier, but not published until 1927. Though the texts of all of these songs, as noted above, share common sources and are of similar sentiment, there is a notable difference in Brahms’s stylistic approach that sets the accompanied songs apart from the a cappella ones. This is especially evident in the Five Songs, in which the music sounds a motet-like reverential note that speaks volumes of Brahms’s love of Bach and his thorough steeping in the vocal polyphony of the Renaissance masters. It was this manner of writing that would transfer quite naturally to Brahms’s final works for organ.

This is my first acquaintance with Andrew-John Smith and the London-based Consortium, a professional ensemble that seems to be eking out a niche for itself in the performance of 19th-century choral music, as opposed to the many English choral groups that devote themselves to the music of the 15th, 16th, and early 17th centuries. This is not, however, Hyperion’s first venture into this general territory. Two previous releases offered recordings of Brahms’s motets and other choral works, and an even earlier disc (66053) titled “Voices of the Night,” with pianist Graham Johnson, not currently listed on arkivmusic.com, duplicates some of the material on the CD under review.

To Brahms devotees and/or those appreciative of accompanied and a cappella music for mixed choruses, this new release will be self-recommending. To those cool to the composer or otherwise not particularly attracted to this repertoire, I won’t give you a hard sell, especially considering Hyperion’s premium price tag. But I can tell you that Consortium makes some very beautiful sounds on this disc, the recording, made in St. Jude-on-the-Hill in London’s Hampstead Garden Suburb, is richly resonant, and the enclosed booklet, with full texts, is up to the company’s usual standards. If I have one minor complaint, it’s that in the accompanied settings the piano could have been more forward. As placed, it seems to be tinkling away in the background. Recommended then, but mainly to those who are into Brahms and this area of his output.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Songs and Romances (6), Op. 93a by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Andrew-John Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Consortium
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1883-1884; Austria 
Length: 11 Minutes 11 Secs. 
Vocal Quartets (3), Op. 64 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Christopher Glynn (Piano)
Conductor:  Andrew-John Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Consortium
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1862-1863; Austria 
Length: 14 Minutes 3 Secs. 
Songs (5), Op. 104 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Andrew-John Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Consortium
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1888; Austria 
Length: 14 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Zigeunerlieder, Op. 103 by Johannes Brahms
Performer:  Christopher Glynn (Piano)
Conductor:  Andrew-John Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Consortium
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1887-1888; Austria 
Length: 18 Minutes 52 Secs. 
Dem dunkeln Schoss der heil'gen Erde, WoO 20 by Johannes Brahms
Conductor:  Andrew-John Smith
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Consortium
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1864; Germany 
Length: 4 Minutes 0 Secs. 

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