Notes and Editorial Reviews
Ave Maria. Windhaag Mass
. Six Motets:
Ave Maria; Afferentur regi; Tota pulchra es, Maria; Os justi; Christus factus est; Ecce sacerdos magnus
. Symphony No. 7:
Milo? Bok, cond; Czech Horn Chorus; Radek Baborák, (leader); Ale? Bárta (org)
CRYSTON OVCC00068 (SACD: 69:48)
In the booklet notes to his recording of Bruckner motets on Delphian 34071
35:2), conductor Duncan Ferguson writes that “despite the scale of Bruckner’s other works, … the motets and shorter sacred works should be considered at the heart of his creative output, for it is in the expression of these ancient religious texts—often apparently austere and yet with the power to speak most directly—that Bruckner reveals something of his inner world.” The CD under consideration here, aptly entitled “Bruckner in Cathedral,” fully underscores the wisdom of these words.
Recorded in the Church of the Assumption in Most, the Czech Republic, this program brings over an hour of choral music arranged for horn choir, most of it with organ accompaniment. The works span nearly Bruckner’s entire compositional career, from the nine-minute
, composed when he was just 18, to some of his finest motets written about the time of the Seventh Symphony.
The program opens with an
from 1882, originally for alto and a keyboard instrument, heard here with solo horn replacing voice. This lovely piece sets the tone for the entire program: soothing, relaxing, perfect for unwinding after a hard day at the office. The core of the program is devoted to six of Bruckner’s many motets, arranged by Milo? Bok for various combinations of horns, Wagner tubas (instruments related to the horn, not the tuba family), and organ. Aside from a string orchestra, there is not another homogenous instrumental ensemble that can span the range of the horn—nearly four octaves—and Bok exploits this range to the fullest. The widely spaced chords result in a truly glorious sound, especially in the reverberant acoustic setting of the church. For those curious to compare these arrangements with Bruckner’s originals, all six motets can also be found on the aforementioned Delphian disc.
The Czech Horn Chorus comprises eight players, four of whom double on Wagner tubas. Probably their greatest assets are the absolute uniformity of sound throughout the ensemble and the perfect balance from top to bottom. No one sticks out. Ever. (What a difference from what one hears in many orchestral horn sections.) A huge dynamic range and razor-sharp attacks and releases further contribute to the sheer pleasure of listening to this ensemble.
Horn players need no introduction to Radek Baborák, leader of the Chorus. Though Czech-born and bred, his career has been mainly as principal horn in several of Germany’s leading orchestras, including the Berlin Philharmonic (2000-2010), and as a touring soloist. In the latter capacity, he works often in Japan, and most of his two dozen or so recordings are on Japanese labels. Baborák’s tone is full, golden, and rock-solid. He uses just enough vibrato to be tasteful, and while this program does not tax his technical agility, one senses that there is nothing he can’t play. Most importantly, every phrase breathes musical sensitivity, a quality he imparts to the entire Chorus. To further showcase his talent, the program closes with an arrangement (again by Bok) of the entire slow movement of Bruckner’s seventh symphony for solo horn and organ. It doesn’t really work, unless perhaps you’ve never heard this music in its original form with its predominant sonorities of Wagner tubas and rich carpets of strings, but as a quasi-religious experience it sure beats listening to a 25-minute sermon.
The booklet notes are entirely in Japanese, but fortunately, an unacknowledged source did a reasonably good job of translating into English Issei Kohata’s outstanding notes as an insert, which describe the origins of every work and details of each arrangement. The program was recorded back in 2008; too bad we had to wait nearly five years for this superb product to reach the market. No texts, but then they’re hardly needed.
FANFARE: Robert Markow
Works on This Recording
Ave Maria by Anton Bruckner
Czech Horn Chorus
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