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Recordings

Anton Bruckner: Lateinische Motetten — Latin Motets
27 Mar 2007

BRUCKNER: Lateinische Motetten — Latin Motets

Known almost iconically for his symphonies, Anton Bruckner devoted a great deal of his compositional output to vocal music, including choral works in both German and Latin.

Anton Bruckner: Lateinische Motetten — Latin Motets

Philharmonia Vocalensemble Stuttgart, Hans Zanotelli, conductor

Profil (Hänssler) PH07002 [CD]

$15.99  Click to buy

Of the latter, Bruckner composed a number of motets that reflect his nineteenth-century perspective on a sixteenth-century form. Not in the style of the solo motets that French composers of the nineteenth century created for virtuosic singers, nor the accompanied motets that eighteenth-century composers like Mozart wrote for use in church, Bruckner’s motets revivify the vocal polyphony associated with such composers as Josquin and Willaert, albeit with decidedly modern touches, mostly in the sometimes chromatic harmonies that point up the usually traditional texts he chose for these works. With these veritable miniatures, Bruckner offers a vocal contrast to his large-scale instrumental symphonic works.

This selection from Bruckner’s larger body of motets was recorded by the Philharmonia Vocalensemble Stuttgart, conducted by Hans Zanotelli, and with tenor soloist Oly Pfaff; some of the works include organist, Manfred Hug, while others include obligatti trombones, here played by Klaus Bauerle, Peter Redwig, and Fritz Resch. The dates of the recording, as listed with accompanying notes are 6 and 7 April 1979, without further identification of location and circumstances. Nevertheless, this recording makes available a representative selection of Bruckner’s works in this genre, and the performances are uniformly solid.

Those unfamiliar with Bruckner’s vocal music may be aware of his three Masses, which are comparable in scope to the composer’s symphony works. With the motets, Bruckner is working on a contrastingly smaller scale, essentially creating miniatures instead of remaining with the larger canvases associated with his style. Compressed in form and performing forces, the motets are works that do note benefit from the repetition and development of thematic material found in Bruckner’s symphonies and Masses. Instead, these through-composed pieces contain shorter, motivically based lines that sometimes benefit from points of imitation. The ideas seem fleeting, with the various internal cadences serving as points of arrival that define the harmonic idiom that supports these otherwise contrapuntal works.

The first piece in this selection, the unaccompanied motet Pange lingua is a contrapuntal setting of the traditional Easter sequence. It offers modern listeners a denser texture than the monophonic one found with the sequence, and in this piece Bruckner allows the contrapuntal lines to support each phrase of this familiar text. Composed in 1868, just before Bruckner worked on his watershed Third Symphony, this motet is a mature example of his vocal music, and a fine introduction to the pieces collected here. In this performance, the Philharmonia Vocalensemble Stuttgart offers a tight reading of this work, with the voices working together under the direction of Hans Zanotelli. Despite its allegiances with the past, this work reflects its modern sensibilities through the various points of arrival that betray a modern approach to harmony, and not the kind of chromatic idiom that would be the result of employing musica ficta.

While some of the pieces can sound similar, Bruckner sometimes varies the unaccompanied mixed chorus by using different voices, as with Inveni David, for men’s choir, which also stands apart because of the trombone accompaniment used in this piece. The solemn setting of Ecce Sacerdos, a text usually associated with ordination or the installation of a primate, is similarly rich for its use of mixed chorus, trombones and organ, which results in a more varied timbre and fuller texture. While the contrapuntal writing in the latter owes much to the Renaissance models that Bruckner knew, the actual compositions in Bruckner’s hands can be nothing but modern, as the nineteenth-century composer reinvented the style of an earlier era in much the same way that a painter like Makart created historic settings anew with a Romantic eye for forms and color. Just an appreciation of Bruckner’s symphonies can be heightened by knowledge of his Masses, the smaller works, like these motets offer a further glimpse at the composer’s imagination. Given Bruckner’s skill at crafting vocal music effectively, it is no wonder that the chorale-like passages in his symphonies are convincing even in that instrumental milieu. Yet Bruckner’s vocal music is convincing in itself, especially as found in the Latin motets that are found on this recording.

James Zychowicz

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