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Hyperion Records

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Martyre chrétienne by Hippolyte Delaroche (1797-1856)
Private Collection / Photo © Bonhams, London / Bridgeman Art Library, London
Track(s) taken from CDA67775
Recording details: October 2007
St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by Andrew Mellor
Release date: May 2009
Total duration: 4 minutes 13 seconds

'Sung with sympathy and ardour by this excellent chamber choir, with apt accompaniments by Christopher Glynn' (Gramophone)

'This is definitely a crack chamber-sized choir: the sound is perennially fresh, even youthful … intonation, ensemble, articulation are all flawless … I have much enjoyed Consortium's Brahms, especially for the sheer quality of the singing. They are particularly good at sustaining tone in pianissimo, and they are always rhythmically alive, which is vital in this repertoire' (International Record Review)

'A professional ensemble that seems to be eking out a niche for itself … Consortium makes some very beautiful sounds' (Fanfare, USA)

'Elegant, refined music-making' (Audiophile Audition, USA)

'There is little doubt that this is high-class choral singing: refined, sweet-toned, impeccably tuned, with subtly nuanced dynamics … the performances are consistently of the highest quality and when Brahms is at his reflective and melancholy best, so are Consortium' (Musical Criticism.com)

Fünf Gesänge, Op 104
composer
Nos 1-5: 1888; Nos 6: 1886; published in 1888

Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
In the Fünf Gesänge Op 104, all but one of which were composed in 1888, beauty of sound and relaxed mastery of medium combine with texts of almost uniformly nostalgic import to produce one of Brahms’s most exquisitely despondent works. The poems tell us that no loving heart opens to the poet’s heartfelt whispers; that spring turns to autumn; that youth is fled; that hopes remain unfulfilled; they also link night, and surrender to sleep, with the acceptance of death. At once resigned and ravishing, this set of Brahms partsongs raises these regrets to the status of high art. The first three of them are cast for six-part choir, which Brahms again deploys in male/ female polyphonic exchanges. There is little direct word-painting (an exception is the horn and echo imitations in the second of the two Rückert settings called Nachtwache that open the set) but instead a very close correlation of mood with musical movement, and a wonderful richness of vocal colour, especially in these glowing Rückert nocturnes and in the highly concentrated Letztes Glück, an autumn-twilight evocation. Contrast to the generally slow pace is found in the fourth number, Verlorene Jugend (‘Lost youth’, a Bohemian poem, set for SATBB), which alternates two tempos, one vigorous and canonic for the heedless days of youth, the other slower and more Romantically homophonic for the piercing sense of their loss.

The culmination of Op 104 (and indeed of Brahms’s secular choral writing) is a powerfully depressive SATB chorus written two years before the others, in 1886: a strophic C minor setting of the achingly nostalgic poem Im Herbst (‘In autumn’), by his friend Klaus Groth. Brahms treats it with great chromatic intensification of the harmony. The second verse duplicates the music of the first, but the third transfigures it into an equally chromatic C major, recasting the harmony to match the miasmal exaltation of Groth’s last lines. (In fact the partsong was originally composed a third lower, in A, with an even darker effect.) In this notable opus Brahms shows himself eloquently unreconciled to the fact of growing old.

from notes by Calum MacDonald © 2009

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