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Recordings

Helmut Eder: Musik für die Felsenreitschule
28 Jan 2007

EDER: Musik für die Felsenreitschule

While many associate it with traditional music, the Salzburg Festival is also a venue for new productions and, to a degree, new compositions.

Helmut Eder: Musik für die Felsenreitschule

Mozarteum Orchester Salzburg, Theodor Guschlbauer (cond.)
Salzburger Festspieldokumente

Oehms Classics OC539 [CD]

  Click to buy

Such is the case with two pieces by the Austrian composer Helmut Eder (1916-2005), whose Divertimento, op. 64, “…Missa est”, op. 86, are designated as Musik für die Felsenreitschule, that is, the outdoor riding school that is used for performances at the Festival. These two recordings date from two distinct performances, the Divertimento from 1976 and “…Missa est” from 1986, and from all indications, they are the premiers of the respective works.

In his fine notes that accompany the recording, Gottfried Kraus profiles Eder’s style, but aside from various influences that he discusses, it is possible to characterize the music as approachably modern. Eder relies on tonal structures, but his music uses modern techniques to arrive at them. Thus, dissonant counterpoint, ostinato patterns, pitch sets, and antiphonal textures are elements that shape such a work as the Divertimento. Not ends in themselves, the techniques are fully developed within the context of each piece. In fact, the textless soprano part in the Divertimento offers a fresh sound in the simple and poignant contrast it offers in the context of the prominent brass and percussion. This is particularly effective in the last movement, the section labeled “Canto II,” with which the work ends. The coloratura soloist, May Sandoz, offers a pliable sound in the extended melismas that Eder gave the voice. Various modal patterns are part of the vocal writing, which relies characteristically on longer lines, in contrast to the more motivic ideas that are accorded the instruments. A four-movement work, the piece itself is engaging for the timbres it brings, and the musical space it defines broadens the idea of the conventional Divertimento with its use of orchestral groups and solo voice.

In his Mass “…Missa est,” Eder offers a brash perspective on the traditional form. In theits instrumental opening of the Kyrie, the sound world is outlined in detail, with dissonant sonorities, stark sonorities, and extroverted percussion, which retreat to the background when the chorus enters. Even there, the chordal textures allotted the male voices are a springboard for the improvisatory-like lines of the women. When Eder brings choral forces together, the resulting unity serves the text well, as the traditional words find new declamation in this work from 1986. While the Kyrie can be perfunctory in the Mass settings of some composers, Eder’s is impressive for the weight he gave it, which balances the scope of the Agnus Dei with which the piece concludes.

Likewise, the Gloria is equally noteworthy for the festive mood created by giving the voices fanfare-like motives that complement the music accorded the instruments. Just as he achieves a full sound, Eder brings in the solo voices, a gesture that draws the listener closer to the text, which finds a thoughtful setting in this movement. A movement that lasts more than twenty minutes, the Gloria stands out with its length and the prominence that comes with such emphasis. Where conventional settings might have the Gloria and Credo roughly proportionate in length, the latter text is presented with less pomp. In fact, the chant-like treatment allows the text of the Credo to be understood clearly, but it is clearly less prominent. In arriving at this structure, Eder suggests, perhaps, the way in which simple faith may have retreated into the background in contemporary culture.

Yet after the almost hypnotic Credo, the bombastic sounds of the Sanctus return to the celebratory tone that the composer established in the Gloria. Here the chordal sonorities in the voices play off various sound masses in the instruments. In the freely dissonant accompaniment that underscores the bass solo, Eder has created some shimmering sounds that eventually give way to an austere conclusion, before the discrete Benedictus, which makes wonderful use of solo voices.

With the Agnus Dei, Eder returns sounds reminiscent of some sections of the Kyrie, with the voices intoning the well-known text in the chant-style found in the Credo. As he allows the movement to develop, Eder uses the kinds of sinuous lines found in the Kyrie, and eventually brings in solo voices to carry the text. In the final iteration of the tripartite text, “Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi”(“Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world”), the concluding invocation of “dona nobis pacem” (“grant us peace”) receives a subtle and quiet treatment. The more extroverted sounds associated with the jubilation of the Gloria and the celebration of the Sanctus give way to music that is more intimate, as the peace ends quietly. It is not the more aggressive “Dona nobis pacem” found in Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, a peace that is challenged by martial sounds. Rather, Eder resolves the movement and with it the entire Mass by shifting to chamber-like sonorities that evidently resonated with the audience, whose applause is preserved in this recording.

Conducted by Leopold Hager and performed by the ORF-Chor, Vienna, the Arnold Schoenberg Chor, and the Radio Symphony Orchestra, Vienna, this is a convincing recording of a work that is probably known best from its premiere at the Salzburg Festival. The soloists are certainly noteworthy, with such accomplished singers as Eva Lind, Marjana Lipovsek, and Robert Hall, adding to the attraction of the piece. More, this recent setting of the traditional Catholic liturgy demonstrates a further artistic direction for this venerable form. A different side of the famed Salzburg Festival, this recording includes new works certainly contribute to the rubric “Festspiel Dokumente” to deepen the understanding of the kinds of music celebrated at this truly world-class event.

James Zychowicz

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