A disc to be revisited and savoured again and again.
Charlotte Gardner 2011-04-08
It's surprising just how many prolific composers of religious music were not, and indeed are not, fervent believers themselves. Janáček wrote his Glagolitic Mass as a staunch atheist, Fauré never allowed himself to be so definitively tagged but certainly had no particular religious conviction, and today John Rutter describes himself as "not particularly religious". However, despite a troubled life and bouts of depression, Bruckner had an intense Catholic faith, and could regularly be seen deep in prayer before beginning one of his organ improvisations.
Such was Bruckner’s faith that it has been suggested that his motets and smaller religious works reveal something of his internal life. Listen to their austere reverence and passion, and it certainly seems a highly believable hypothesis. With their references to plainchant, their use of antique modalities, harmonic scrunches, strong dynamic contrasts and weighted pauses, these works are highly powerful. Incidentally, the same qualities also make these works prime musical contenders for being hammed up within an inch of their musical lives; but this is not a trap that the Choir of St Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh come anywhere close to falling into.
This performance is just superb. It's the kind of disc you want to turn up to full volume and lose yourself in, whether you're of a religious bent or not. Through their crisp, measured phrases, limpid textures, and their reverent but never syrupy tone, they've captured the simplicity and humility of both texts and music. Also, probably, of Bruckner's own spiritual attitude. Then, there are the voices themselves. The rich tenors and basses blend to perfection, contrasted by the delight that is the treble section; made up of boy and girl choristers, they combine silver purity with a joyous, punchy exuberance. The occasional soprano note isn't quite bang on pitch but, frankly, who cares, with an overall sound and interpretation of this quality? The sublime Os Justi is a high point, showing the trebles off to the full as they hit the glorious top A with confidence and beauty. This is a disc to be revisited and savoured again and again.