Magazine article Gramophone

Deutsche Motette

Magazine article Gramophone

Deutsche Motette

Article excerpt

Work Music by Strauss, Schumann, Schubert, Brahms, Rheinberger and Cornelius Artists choirs of Gonvilie and Caius College, Cambridge, and King's College London Venue St John's, upper Norwood, London | Conductors Geoffrey Webber and David Trendell Producer Paul Baxter | Date of session July 5, 2012 | Words Andrew Mellor

Last time the choir of King's College London decamped south of the river to revel in the generous acoustic of St John the Evangelist, Upper Norwood, they were singing Allegri--floating the pure top Cs of his Miserere through the church's vaulted red brick arches. A year later, things are a little busier--on the printed scores, in those resonating acoustics, and in the vestry.

Delphian has assembled the so-called 'superchoir', a meeting of the young voices of King's with those of the choir of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, to record fearsome German repertoire including Strauss's 16-part Deutsche Motette. 'Yes, it is a little different from the Allegri ... it's quite tricky in fact,' laughs David Trendell as he prepares to conduct the first take of the giant fugal section that forms the apex of the piece. Some time between then and when he sat down to write his booklet essay, that summation had morphed from 'tricky' to 'exceptionally difficult'.

And he's not wrong. There's something peculiarly fascinating about watching these young voices, half of whom have only known the other half for a matter of weeks, grappling with sounds which are so obviously external to their normal musical diet. 'It's so different from what we're used to singing in Chapel,' says Susannah Bagnall, a soprano in the Gonville and Caius choir. 'There are these massive textures and so many parts--all the way up to top Ds and down to very low notes too.'

Those notes are plentiful, unrelenting, and strewn about the chromatic scale. There are passages when the ensemble's tuning needs fixing, others where it needs to recalibrate balance. All the while it's punishingly hard to restart this giant polyphonic engine and to maintain the music's atmospheric weight. When the energy flags, a big-boned bass at the back is on hand with enthusiastic banter. 'It's more to entertain myself really,' he tells me when I track him down: Alex Jones, a history student at King's. 'I think if you let yourself get too frustrated, especially with music like this, it just means you're going to sing badly. You have to relax somehow.'

Delphian's CD, which takes its title from the imposing Deutsche Motette, charts the course of Romantic choral music in Germany from Schubert up to Strauss--an area of repertoire unjustly eclipsed, in Trendell's words, by the high-profile orchestral and chamber works that flowed from the same composers' pens. …

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