Rupert Huber

Via Crucis

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Franz Liszt's Via Crucis (Stations of the Cross), composed in 1878, dates from the end of his career, when the formerly flamboyant composer joined a monastic order and spent part of his time living a spartan life in a small apartment near Rome. The work combines extreme spareness with the chromatic experimentation characteristic of the composer's late years, with simple melodies subjected Bachian part-writing that veers into expressive chromatic depths. The work shows off the powers of a small choir and has been recorded many times, but this German release, featuring the West German Radio Chorus of Cologne under Rupert Huber, is a standout for several reasons. First is the uncommon deployment of a piano duo instead of an organ on the keyboard part, which highlights the work's stark contrasts between voice and instrument and sets off the close, minimal text-setting that puts the work in a long tradition running all the way back to Schütz's Passions. Second is superior engineering, putting the listener in among the spaces of the moderately small choir. And finally (and especially flattered by the engineering) is the presence of an unusual complementary work, Vide Domine, vide afflictionem nostram (2007), by contemporary Korean composer Younghi Pagh-Paan. This work, setting Latin texts from letters written by nineteenth century Korean priest Yang-Eop Choe, features close a cappella writing that both lets the choir finish with a technical flourish and amplifies the inward quality of the Liszt. The work was commissioned by the West German Radio Network (WDR), and it's an inspired choice. Few examples of contemporary Korean music are available in the West, and fewer still, in contrast to the Japanese repertory, have been taken up by Western performing organizations. Strongly recommended.

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