Consummate Artistry in Dresden Chamber Choir’s Concert

GermanyGermany  Janáček, Bruckner: Dresden Chamber Choir, Staatskapelle Dresden Winds, Hans-Christoph Rademann (director), Aaron Pegram (tenor), Astrid von Brück (harp), Jaroslav Tůma (organ), Dresden Music Festival 2012, Annenkirche, Dresden, Germany 22.5.2012 (MC)

Janáček: Mass after Franz Liszt’s Messe pour orgue
Janáček: Otče náš (Our Father)
Bruckner: Mass No. 2 in E minor for chorus and fifteen winds

Dresden Chamber Choir & Staatskapelle Dresden Winds. photo credit: Michael Cookson

Creating considerable interest this concert at the Annenkirche started a little late owing to the large number of people queuing to pay at the door. I’m not surprised as the three sacred scores from the pens of Janáček and Bruckner combined to make an outstanding concert in prospect. Both were born into the Roman Catholic faith;  Bruckner maintained a strong faith throughout his life whilst Janáček displayed ambivalence towards the church. Janáček and Bruckner had served as choristers, organ scholars and organists and certainly knew how to write church music.

In the first half of the concert for the Janáček scores the director Hans-Christoph Rademann placed the choir upstairs at the rear of the church around the organ played by Jaroslav Tůma. For the audience downstairs in the nave it certainly felt different to be able to hear the music coming from behind but not to see it being performed.

Commencing with the Janáček Organ Mass after Franz Liszt the concert got off to an impressive start. In 1879 Liszt had written an Ordinary messe pour orgue in six sections. What Janáček did in 1901 was to add a mass text for four-part chorus making only very small revisions to Liszt’s original organ scoring. The Dresden Chamber Choir gave a memorably lyrical yet reverential account of this satisfying work, and the important organ part was magnificently played by Tůma without ever over dominating the balance. Lingering long in the memory were the remarkable climaxes in the Credo on the word  Amen! I admired the memorable melody from the mixed voices in the Sanctus together with the extended and dramatic Hosanna in excelsis!

Next to be performed was Janáček’s moving miniature sacred cantata Otče náš (Our Father) from (1901 rev. 1906) in the arrangement for mixed choir, tenor, organ and harp. Commissioned by a Women’s home in Brno, Janáček’s music was intended to accompany a tableaux vivant of paintings by Józef Męcina-Krzesz. This intensely beautiful score is a gem of the repertoire with every section revealing veritable delights. Best of all was the captivating Adagio section where the enchanting harp and organ conveyed an ethereal character to the simply glorious music. Pleading to God for forgiveness the tenor Aaron Pegram movingly intoned the words A odpusť nám naše viny (And forgive us our trespasses) followed by the choir repeating the powerful text.

Hans-Christoph Rademann, photo HL Oehme

Of Bruckner’s three great masses the Mass No. 2 in E-minor for eight-part chorus and fifteen winds is the best suited for actual liturgical use rather than merely for concert performance. Written in 1866 the spectacular score looks back to Renaissance polyphony in the tradition of Palestrina. After the interval, for this dignified Bruckner score Hans-Christoph Rademann relocated his forty-seven strong Dresden Chamber Choir to a more conventional position in the chancel with the nine brass and six woodwind players of the Staatskapelle Dresden positioned just in front. Such was the even quality of the expansive writing and excellence of performance it was hard to select a highlight from this Bruckner E-minor Mass. Several peaceful passages of a reverential character followed by energetic climaxes of devotional awe recur throughout this dynamically wide score. I particularly admired the Benedictus as the wind parts and choral writing seem to be especially closely woven creating a searching and absorbing mood. Hans-Christoph Rademann’s impressive direction of his choir and wind orchestra provided an accomplished performance of alluring clarity without ever forgetting that this score was dedicated to the glory of God.

Impeccably prepared by Olaf Katzer the Dresden Chamber Choir proved to be extremely cultivated performers, responding faithfully to the astute direction of Hans-Christoph Rademann. Combining consummate artistry with musicianship the collective voices of the Choir blended together into one remarkable whole. With his strong projection and clear diction tenor Aaron Pegram was mightily impressive with harpist Astrid von Brück and organist Jaroslav Tůma doing sterling work. As I expected, the characterful Staatskapelle Dresden Winds played magnificently. This concert in the Annenkirche’s wonderful acoustic totally captivated the large audience and was one of the highlights of my Dresden Music festival.

Michael Cookson