Nobiles – German Romantics for the 21st century

SingaporeSingapore Various composers: Germany A Cappella – A German Mass, Ensemble Nobiles, Paul Heller (Music Director), Church of St. Ignatius, Singapore, 27.03.2015 (RP)

Franz Schubert: Deutsche Messe, D 872
Peter Karl Wolfgang Berg: “Herr Christ, der einig Gotts Sohn”
Josquin des Pres: Missa La sol fa re me – Kyrie
Peter Carl August Cornelius: “Mitten wir im Leben sind & Ach, wie nichtig, ach, wie flüchtig”
Vincenzo Ruffo: Missa sine nomine – Gloria
Fredo Jung: “Der 100 Psalm”
Hugo Distler: “Wir glauben an Gott, den Vater”
Paul Heller: “Wir glauben all einen Gott”
Erhard Mauersberger: “Wessobrunner Gebet”
Francis Poulenc: “Quatre petites prières de Saint François d’Assise”: II. “Tout puissant, très saint,” III. “Seigneur, je vous en prie”
William Byrd: “Ave verum corpus”
Pierre de la Rue: “O salutaris hostia”
Georg Christoph Biller: “Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich”


This year, Leipzig celebrates the 1000th anniversary of its first documented mention. 2015 also marks 50 years of diplomatic relations between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Republic of Singapore. Sponsorship linked to these two commemorations brought Ensemble Nobiles to Singapore for a weekend of music making. It  was the last stop on their tour which included concerts in Australia and New Zealand. The five young men who make up the ensemble, all veterans of the famed St. Thomas Boys Choir in Leipzig, have fresh voices that belie their years of experience. Their obvious love of singing and the German language, as well as their musicianship, were abundantly evident.

 The concert was billed as a service, with the nine movements of Franz Schubert’s Deutsche Messe interspersed with motets from Medieval times to the present. The Schubert is well known, especially the Sanctus which came in the middle of the program. It was the high point of the concert, and not because it is so well known. The ensemble’s performance was marked by sensitive phrasing, expressive dynamics and absolutely perfect diction. These traits were evidenced throughout the program, apparent despite the church’s poor acoustics which did nothing to enhance their sound.

 Works by three composers with ties to St. Thomas Church were also on the program. Erhard Mauersberger (1903-1982) was a Thomaner, as the choristers are called, and also served as the Thomaskantor, the musical director. (J.S. Bach was his most illustrious predecessor.) The singers performed his “Wessobrunner Gebet.” It was fairly straightforward musically, of greater interest for its text, which is based on the earliest Christian poem in German dating from c. 790. Paul Heller’s “Wir glauben all einen Gott” was a fresh and original take on Martin Luther’s well known hymn tune. Heller (b.1991) does double duty as Ensemble Nobiles’ musical director and one of its tenors. His neo-romantic style is harmonically rich and expressive, and this short piece was one of the most compelling of all that they sang. The program ended with Georg Chistoph Biller’s “Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich.” Biller (b.1955) served as Thomaskantor from 1992 until January of this year.

 There were also offerings from outside of the German repertoire. Furthest afield were two of Francis Poulenc’s “Quatre petites prières de Saint François d’Assise.” These are spare works, basically plainchant set with the composer’s characteristic harmonies and colorings. Ensemble Nobiles met the musical and technical challenges of these deceptively simple sounding pieces, but they were a little earthbound. The mysticism and etherealness so necessary in Poulenc’s works of this genre were not there. The acoustics, of course, were of no help. Works by Josquin des Pres, William Byrd and others were all were competently performed, but to these ears the quintet were at their best in the German repertoire.

 Wilhelm Nagel’s “Schöne Nacht” was the sole encore. The German Romantic repertoire is the group’s self-professed sweet spot. This well-known part song for male chorus is neo-romanticism at its melodic, sentimental, atmospheric best, perfect fodder for Ensemble Nobiles’ exquisite diction, coloring and phrasing. In his closing remarks, bass Lukas Lomtscher told the audience, “If you like us, like us on Facebook.”  I did.

Rick Perdian