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Track(s) taken from CDA67629

Vexilla regis

composer
completed in 1892; 4vv; Phrygian Mode
author of text

Polyphony, Stephen Layton (conductor)
Recording details: January 2007
Ely Cathedral, United Kingdom
Produced by Adrian Peacock
Engineered by Simon Eadon
Release date: October 2007
Total duration: 5 minutes 1 seconds

Cover artwork: Ely Cathedral (detail) by Thomas Lound (1802-1861)
Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery / Bridgeman Art Library, London
 
1
Vexilla regis  [5'01]

Reviews

'Peace and goodwill would be the order of the day if Father Christmas could hand out to all and sundry copies of Polyphony's recording of the Bruckner's Mass in E minor. No disc I've heard this year comes near it for sheer beauty … Polyphony, whose sound is … smoothly rounded, fully blended and sumptuous … Layton produces such gorgeous sounds from his singers that the overall listening experience is infinitely satisfying … the seven unaccompanied motets are absolute gems. An ethereal account of Ave Maria has a breadth and grandeur which belies its short time-span; as the vocal lines crowd in on each other, the effect is nothing short of electrifying. And popular as it is, if there has to be a 'definitive' interpretation on disc of Locus iste, this has to be it. Put it simply, we're unlikely to hear choral singing as fine as this for a good few years to come' (Gramophone)

'This really excellent offering from Polyphony … Polyphony trumps all others for beauty of tone … in the Benedictus, too, musical sense arises from transparency and intelligent phrasing … the performances of the motets are excellent, too, painting nuanced pictures of these vocally and philosophically stratospheric pieces' (BBC Music Magazine)

'Polyphony and the Britten Sinfonia catch the music's starkness, exaltation and mysticism as movingly as I have heard. This is a searching performance, with soft singing of awed intensity, but also an unusually dramatic one. Stephen Layton never allows Bruckner's music, even at its most unearthly, to become becalmed; and he builds climaxes of molten intensity in, say, the Sanctus, or the fervent motet Christus factus est. A glorious disc of music that strives for, and ultimately attains, a state of transcendent peace' (The Daily Telegraph)

'I wasn’t prepared for the excellence of this program … the musicianship is so sophisticated, so meticulous that it’s impossible not to get swept up in what the singers are doing … what really captures my attention is the spectrum of vocal colors these singers create in pianissimo range … Maestro Layton’s performances inspire the soul even as they break the heart with their intense beauty' (American Record Guide)

'This album finds the composer secure in his spiritual home, serving God in music transcendent. Stephen Layton's reading of the Second Mass articulates sublime, prayer-like qualities routinely overlooked and underplayed by others. The approach … is revelatory, rich in contrasts, fervent outbursts and symphonic tension … an outstanding release' (Classic FM Magazine)

'The performance is strong and characterful: beautifully sung by Polyphony and subtly, imaginatively accompanied by the Britten Sinfonia's wind band … the group sing with ravishing, lustrous tone throughout and phrase and colour magnificently. Their dynamic and dramatic range is great and tension is continually racked up under the baton of Stephen Layton, though never at the expense of vocal purity, profundity of expression or dignity of delivery' (MusicOHM.com)
Bruckner’s last church composition, Vexilla regis, dates from 1892, four years before the composer’s death, when the ailing Bruckner was struggling to complete his ninth and last symphony. The last thing Bruckner needed at such a time was distraction, yet he insisted that the urge to compose Vexilla regis came ‘straight from the heart’. The use of the old church ‘Phrygian Mode’ (the white-note scale on the piano beginning on E) harks back to Bruckner’s not uncritical interest in the aims of the Cecilian Movement; but the purity of the mode is soon coloured by breathtaking chromatic shifts, and the security of E as the tonal centre is only just recaptured at the end of each verse. The aspiring cadential figure at the word ‘prodeunt’ (‘advance’) near the start echoes Wagner’s use of the old Lutheran ‘Dresden Amen’ in his last opera Parsifal, whose first performance in 1882 had made an enormous impression on Bruckner. (A similar echo can be heard on strings alone near the start of the Adagio of the ninth symphony.)

from notes by Stephen Johnson © 2007

Bruckner composa son dernier ouvrage liturgique, Vexilla regis, en 1892, quatre ans avant de mourir, alors que, déjà malade, il luttait pour achever sa neuvième et dernière symphonie. Il avait alors besoin de tout sauf de distraction mais, insista-t-il, la nécessité de composer Vexilla regis lui jaillit «tout droit du cœur». L’usage du vieux mode ecclésiastique «phrygien» (la gamme en touches blanches qui, au piano, commence à mi) renvoie à l’intérêt tout sauf inconditionnel que Bruckner porta aux desseins du cécilianisme; mais la pureté de ce mode est bientôt teintée d’époustouflantes transitions chromatiques, cependant que la certitude de mi en tant que centre tonal est juste recréée à la fin de chaque verset. L’ambitieuse figure cadentielle au mot «prodeunt» («s’avancent»), vers le début, fait écho à l’usage du vieil «Amen de Dresde» luthérien dans le dernier opéra de Wagner, Parsifal, dont la création, en 1882, avait beaucoup impressionné Bruckner. (Un même écho est décelable aux cordes seules, près du début de l’Adagio de la Symphonie no 9.)

extrait des notes rédigées par Stephen Johnson © 2007
Français: Hyperion Records Ltd

Bruckners letzte kirchenmusikalische Komposition, Vexilla regis, datiert von 1892, vier Jahre vor seinem Tode, als der kränkliche Komponist sich bemühte, seine neunte und letzte Symphonie zu vollenden. Das letzte, was Bruckner zu dieser Zeit brauchte, war eine Ablenkung, aber er bestand darauf, dass die Komposition von Vexilla regis „aus reinem Herzensdrange“ erfolgte. Der Gebrauch der alten phrygischen Kirchentonart (die Tonleiter der weißen Tasten des Klaviers, auf E beginnend), greift auf Bruckners keineswegs unkritisches Interesse am Cäcilianismus zurück, aber die Reinheit des Modus wird bald durch atemberaubende chromatische Verschiebungen eingefärbt, und die Sicherheit des E als tonales Zentrum wird am Ende jeder Strophe nur gerade wieder hergestellt. Die aufstrebende Kadenzfigur auf das Wort „prodeunt“ („treten heraus“) erinnert an Wagners Gebrauch des alten lutherischen „Dresdner Amens“ in seiner letzten Oper Parsifal, deren Uraufführung 1882 einen gewaltigen Eindruck auf Bruckner gemacht hatte. (Ein ähnliches Echo findet sich in den Streichern am Anfang des Adagios der Neunten Symphonie.)

aus dem Begleittext von Stephen Johnson © 2007
Deutsch: Renate Wendel

Other albums featuring this work

Bruckner: motets
CDA66062
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