Notes and Editorial Reviews
Missa Jubilus sacer
Gunar Letzbor, cond; St. Florian Children’s Ch; Ars Antiqua Austria (period instruments)
PAN 10264 (58:58
Text and Translation)
Conductor Gunar Letzbor has apparently embarked upon the resurrection of the copious amount of sacred music to be found in Austrian monastic archives, beginning with the works of Joseph Balthasar Hochreither (1669–1731), who for almost 30 years was organist at the Lambach
Benedictine monastery. Letzbor’s first disc, Hochreither’s
Missa ad multos annos
, was released last year on Symphonia. That 1705 work, paired with a Mass by his predecessor, Benjamin Ramhaufski, shows considerable talent in the careful part-writing that characterizes Austrian music from the late Baroque. It is a bit old-fashioned, a bit lyrical (that’s the Italian influence), and contains a solid bit of counterpoint. Moreover, it is not too long. Hochreither was trained in Salzburg, probably by Ignaz Biber and perhaps even Georg Muffat, but after obtaining a master’s degree, apparently left in 1694 for Lambach. In 1721 he was back at Salzburg as fifth organist, but he apparently continued to compose large-scale works for Lambach until his death. Although he was an active composer, only 21 pieces have survived, all in the monastery archives. This disc presents two of these very interesting pieces, an eclectic Requiem and one of his last compositions, a large celebratory Mass for the abbot of Lambach, Gotthard Hasinger. Both pieces are written in a cantata style, that is to say, where the text is subdivided into numerous smaller movements, thus allowing for a more varied compositional approach.
The Requiem is the oddest of the two, with a source situation that the excellent booklet notes by Peter Deinhammer, the author of the 2009 biography of Hochreither, explains in some detail. The opening sections (Introit-Kyrie, Sequence) and closing sections are found in folders dated to 1712, while the offertory is in a third from 1717. Being that it is unlikely that it would have been composed piecemeal, the details of the sources present a true musicological puzzle. Moreover, there are no deaths of important individuals in Hochreither’s sphere of acquaintance that would have elicited such a work. Nonetheless, it is, as Deinhammer states, a “curiosity.” The individual movements last, for the most part, under two minutes, with several lasting only seconds, hardly the sort of piece that one might find at a ponderous and solemn funeral ceremony. The same can be said for the Mass, however, so perhaps this was his formal mode of composition. No matter, since this sequence of movements allows for smaller and more concise musical vignettes. The scoring is also interesting; along with the strings (here labeled “viole concert” in the source, meaning probably the usual strings) one finds trombones, as well as trumpets and timpani. In the Requiem, he requires them to be muffled, muted, and suppressed, perhaps a Salzburg tradition for such occasions. I find that this adds an eerie feel to the sound, more like an organ stop than brass instruments, something that one might find an acquired taste.
As for the works themselves, it is clear that Hochreither was an eclectic composer. For example, in the Libera Me, there is a brief light duet between the upper voices that is immediately contrasted by the bass descending into the depths of his range on the word “inferni.” The Te Decet has a lyrical soprano line supported by soft violins, that morphs into a funeral march at “ex audi,” replete with muffled brass and drums. In the Tuba Mirum the voice is instructed to sing up through the Lacrimosa through a
, which although it means literally “speaking tube,” nonetheless stumps both musicological advisor and conductor. Apparently his solution was to disconnect plastic drainpipes and have the soloist, Gerhard Kenda, bellow through various lengths in an attempt to be appropriately sepulchral. I’m not sure that this is what the composer intended, and Baroque plastic tubes of any sort are exceedingly apocryphal, but it does seem to blend well with the declamatory trombone accompaniment (and let us not forget that, in German, it is the sound of “
die letzte Posaune,
” not trumpet, that accompanies the Last Judgment). In the Mass, the Quoniam movement employs a rather florid solo clarino part that reminds one of Handel, while the Crucifixus begins with some spooky homophonic voice duets in which they are paired off, one against another, in sequence.
In short, these are works that will raise eyebrows for jaded Baroque music collectors, in that they are eccentric, original, and filled with musical surprises. They are also extremely competently written, with interesting sonorities, timbral contrasts, and sometimes advanced counterpoint and harmony. The performances by Letzbor’s Ars Antiqua Austria are very fine. He uses the boys’ choir of St. Florian sparingly, intermixing it and a boy soprano soloist, Alois Mühlbacher, with richer sonorities of adult singers. The soloists and chorus weave in and out of each other with no stylistic or tonal breaks, which allows the music to speak for itself. The intonation and tempos are all spot-on, and the recording-venue ambiance is perfect for this sort of music. If you collect Baroque church music, Hochreither’s works should be high on your list, and you will want to have these wonderfully eclectic and excellently performed works in your collection. I shall look forward to the next Hochreither installment with anticipation.
FANFARE: Bertil van Boer
Works on This Recording
Requiem by Joseph Balthasar Hochreither
Ars Antiqua Austria,
St. Florian Children's Choir
Missa Jubilus sacer by Joseph Balthasar Hochreither
Ars Antiqua Austria,
St. Florian Children's Choir
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