Swedish Radio Choir / Peter Dijkstra

Brahms: Mass; Motets

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This release on the Dutch audiophile Channel Classics label offers some real Brahms rarities: a rare thing in a marketplace where this composer's work has been pretty exhaustively explored. The Swedish Radio Choir under Peter Dijkstra does not quite make a case for any of these works as counterparts to Ein deutsches Requiem, Op. 45, but the music is interesting enough and in several cases unlike anything else Brahms ever wrote. Mostly short, these a cappella works reflect more than almost any others by Brahms his engagement with early music: not only Bach, but Heinrich Schütz, Giovanni Gabrieli, and even Palestrina in the fragmentary Missa Canonica (tracks 6-8), which did not have its premiere until 1983. The Fest-und Gedenksprüche (say that fast five times), Op. 109, are responsorial structures intended for outdoor performance; other works are simple and declamatory in the manner of a chorale, but characteristic of Brahms' harmonic world. The late Three Motets, Op. 110, have the economy of the composer's late chamber music, and the longer Two Motets, Op. 74, especially the first piece, Warum ist das Licht gegeben, achieve a Romantic extension of Bach's language in an entirely different way from Mendelssohn, who seems to be the direct ancestor but not the model for many of these works. The music is not pious in mood, which one might expect from a composer of whom Dvorák said, "Such a man, such a fine soul -- and he believes in nothing! He believes in nothing!" Instead, Brahms engages in dialogue with musical ancestors who did not show up directly in his music, but are there nonetheless. The album is something of a labor of love for Dijkstra, who elicits from the Swedish Radio Choir a sound with a lot of texture, but with clear rendition of the texts. The sound from a Stockholm church is a major attraction: appropriate to the music's subject, but leaving the choir fully intelligible. Those who do not speak German might wish for translations of the texts in the booklet, or at least a link to them, in place of photos, coupons, a discography, and even a credit for the cables used by the engineers, but this is on balance an intriguing find for those who love Brahms.

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