06-28-2014 The English Chamber Orchestra does it again, here on this Hyperion CD, with Matthew Best at the helm and the Corydon Singers and four competent soloists in tow in this performance of the seldom heard requiem of Anton Bruckner. Written in 1849, and first performed ON September 15, 1849 and is scored for mixed choir, 3 trombones, one French Horn, and organ and strings. This February 1987 recording by Matthew Best and his charges, runs for 36:32 .
The music is undistinguishable for anything resembling his mature style and it is not the powerful, "rock-of-ages" material I had anticipated it would be. Rather, it sounds very much like an early Mozart or Haydn Mass, clearly demonstrating his debt to the older masters. It was also the largest work to have been composed just prior to his 6 years of tuition with Simon Sechter, and then Otto Kitzler in Linz before he set out and began writing his first 3 Symphonies, numbers 0, 1 and 2 as well as his only Masses, the awesome trio, that receive far more attention than this somewhat neglected requiem.
The opening section combines essentially material usually found in the Mass segment known as the gradual, a meditative verse placed between the reading, silently by the priest of the Epistle and then the Gospel. here, Bruckner combines the requiem aeternam and the usually following Kyrie into one text and uses the choir in a noble and reverent manner to establish the work's solemnity.
the major section of this, or any requiem, is the Sequence titled the "Dies Irae," a sylabaic form of a narrative with the qualities of a dramatic prose. Most" Dies iraes" by other composers are sub-segmented for dramatic effect, when in fact, they become the centerpiece of say, the Verdi, Berlioz and others, like Mozart. Although I am and have been for over 40 years of listening and self-study, a devoted fan of Bruckner, I must admit this dies iraes is a dry, rushed and uninvolved chunk of music, leaving me disappointed that the composer never wrote another one after his time with Sechter, which brought out much of the composer's recognizable style and methodology of writing. in fact, much the same applies to this entire composition. Surely his numbered Masses are of much higher quality, hence their more prolific performance history--deservedly so.
The several remaining segments of the requiem are more or less similar in their routineness and absence of any really striking artistic presence, but almost sound as a mandatory demo made at the request of a teacher of the young man from Ansfelden. And yet, this "young man," was nearly 25 at the time of this opus and had already written much of his organ pieces and several liturgical items for St. Florian's Chapel services, his home since about the age of 10.
Matthew Best's treatment is scholarly and respectful, but not really riveting or passionate, but then, neither is the music itself. Somewhat detached and matter-of-factly written, this 1849 work is a curiosity, and little else and I had to admit it was a piece ai could of survived without. Still, it's a good recording, full, detailed and worth collecting for a budget price, which is about what it is worth. Happy listening and God bless you all, Tony.