Rheinberger women’s choir works/Elektra choir

Review by: David Vernier

Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 7

Josef Rheinberger was an almost exact contemporary of Brahms, and like his more illustrious countryman he devoted considerable creative energy to works for chorus, much of it for female-voice ensembles. This recording–a welcome collection of sacred pieces for two, three, and four parts with organ–shows that Rheinberger also had a particular affinity for the timbre of women’s voices and a facility for melodic development that on its face appears as a simpler version of Brahms’ mature style. Warm, shimmering harmonies characterize much of these works’ sonic qualities, but there’s more to this music than mere prettiness. Rheinberger manages to capture mood and meaning in setting timeless texts such as Regina coeli, Salve regina, and Ave maris stella. Yes, it lacks Brahms’ dramatic flair and thematic/developmental sophistication, but there’s no denying the craftsmanship of the vocal writing and the overall effectiveness of these pieces either as liturgical works or as concert pieces.

Rheinberger wrote his Hymn Op. 35 to the text “Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen” (How lovely are thy dwellings) in 1865, several years before Brahms’ famous rendition in the German Requiem, and although there’s no real thematic similarity, conceptually the two versions are notable for their respective–and equally effective–musical treatments of the text’s ethereal subject matter. You have to admire the tender lyricism of Rheinberger’s version, aided by the prominent harp and the simplicity of the four-part vocal writing. Interestingly, the Kyrie of the mass (written in 1888) sounds as if influenced by Brahms’ Requiem, both in its rich-textured harmonies and in the shape of its melodic lines. The Adoramus te is a miniature masterpiece–ardent in spirit and artfully built to a truly triumphal climax–that encourages multiple hearings.

Vancouver’s Elektra Women’s Choir, a group that has made a highly respectable name for itself over the years, does full justice to these technically demanding yet easily accessible pieces and does a great service to listeners by bringing them to our attention in such expertly realized performances. Directors Diane Loomer and Morna Edmundson draw lovely sounds from the 30-plus voices, from the darker lower registers to the clearly ringing higher realms. (I confess that I’m not partial to the penetrating quality and prominent vibrato of soprano Lorraine Reinhardt in the Regina coeli, but I’m sure other listeners will differ on this point.) Although overall balances are fine, the live ambience obscures some detail and tends to blend the voices rather than properly define them. Nonetheless, in a program of this quality, the sonic imperfections ultimately are minimal compared to the value of the musical discoveries.

Buy Now from Arkiv Music

Recording Details:

JOSEF GABRIEL RHEINBERGER - Three Latin Hymns Op. 96; Wie lieblich sind deine Wohnungen Op. 35; Missa in E-flat Op. 155; Six Hymns Op. 118

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