Day 347: Choral Music VII

BrahmsCD41This is starting to feel like I’m caught in an episode of The Twilight Zone, the one where the same events keep repeating.

I had no idea Johannes was such an aficionado of choral music.

I avoided studying a composer like Verdi for that very reason – he was known for his opera.

If I suspected that Brahms would have been so heavy on the singing, I might have reconsidered my choice to study his works.


I’m still learning a great deal and, for the most part, enjoying my listening.

But I prefer the power and majesty of Beethoven’s symphonies, concertos, and sonatas over this type of singing.

Although this type of singing – as represented on today’s CD – sounds a lot like Gregorian chants. It’s sonorous, echo-y, with occasional very high notes from the sopranos piercing the heavens above the drone.

It’s actually quite mesmerizing.

When I listen to Brahms’ choral music, I have to tune out the German language bits and just listen to the sound of it all at once. If I focus on the words, I chuckle. The German language is really funny. So many harsh consonants and excessive syllables for what in English would be simple word. “Pencil,” for example. In German, it becomes something like, “Leipzichfrauscribundleadverkinten.” (Not, really. But I’m making a point, albeit stretching it a bit.)

The Compositions:

2 Motets Op. 29

Geistliches Lied Op. 30

3 Motets Op. 110

Missa Canonica Wo018 posth.

Gesange Op. 17 for female voices, 2 horns & harp

The Performers:

Chamber Choir of Europe
Jens Wollenschlager organ
Martina Schrott harp
Sebastian Schindler horn
Sebastian Schorr horn
Nicol Matt conductor

Some of this CD is quite good. 3 Motets Op. 110, especially Movement I (“Ich aber bin elend”), for example.

And the surprising Gesange Op. 17 for female voices, 2 horns & harp. It’s a remarkable pairing of instruments (Gesange means choruses). The French horn, alone, always gets my attention. But horn and harp? And some truly fine female voices.

Here. Listen for yourself:

As you can hear, this is an unusual pairing of instruments. NOTE: The harpist is playing in typical Brahms fashion – lots of notes – but it comes out sounding like a Classical guitar (think Segovia).

It’s a very, very interesting composition.

I”m sorry. But I have to give this one a Favorite award.

Day 342: Choral Music II

BrahmsCD36Beautiful music. Stirring. Moving.

But then the voices enter.

And the spell is broken.


The power of the choir in the first piece (Gesang der Parzen) is overwhelming. A very nice chorus, especially the female voices. Stirring.

The Composition:

Gesang der Parzen Op. 89

The Performers:

Danish National Choir/DR
Danish National Symphony Orchestra
Gerd Albrecht conductor

The Composition:

Rhapsodie Op. 53

Interesting opening. Ominous.

I’ve never been a fan of the alto vocal range. Annelies’ performance doesn’t change my mind any.

The Performers:

Annelies Burmeister alto
Males chorus of the Rundfunkchor Leipzig chorus master Horst Neumann
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Leipzig
Heinz Bongartz conductor

The Composition:

Rinaldo Op. 50 Cantata for tenor solo, male chorus & orchestra

The tenor vocal range, on the other hand, is my sweet spot. It’s my favorite vocal range. And Joachim Kerol sounds like a very fine tenor. Tremendous power. Really belts out the words. Love this composition!

The Performers:

Joachim Kerol tenor
New Paris Symphony Association Chorus – Orchestre Pasdeloup
Rene Leibowitz conductor

I’m sorry. Despite my better judgment, I’m going to have to award this a Favorite Brahms composition. The combination of Joachim’s vocal power and Brahms’ often stirring music (performed beautifully by the New Paris Symphony Association – Orchestre Pasdeloup) wins me over.

Day 340: Ein Deutsches Requiem

BrahmsCD34The first Brahms vocal music!

Here’s what I’m listening to:

Ein Deutsches Requiem Op. 45

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

A German Requiem, To Words of the Holy Scriptures, Op. 45 (German: Ein deutsches Requiem, nach Worten der heiligen Schrift) by Johannes Brahms, is a large-scale work for chorus, orchestra, and a soprano and a baritone soloist, composed between 1865 and 1868. It comprises seven movements, which together last 65 to 80 minutes, making this work Brahms’s longest composition. A German Requiem is sacred but non-liturgical, and unlike a long tradition of the Latin Requiem, A German Requiem, as its title states, is a Requiem in the German language.

Brahms’s mother died in February 1865, a loss that caused him much grief and may well have inspired Ein deutsches Requiem. Brahms’s lingering feelings over Robert Schumann’s death in July 1856 may also have been a motivation, though his reticence about such matters makes this uncertain.

Most critics have commented on the high level of craftsmanship displayed in the work, and have appreciated its quasi-classical structures (e.g. the third and sixth movements have fugues at their climax). But not all critics responded favourably to the work. George Bernard Shaw, an avowed Wagnerite, wrote that “it could only have come from the establishment of a first-class undertaker.” Some commentators have also been puzzled by its lack of overt Christian content, though it seems clear that for Brahms this was a humanist rather than a Christian work.

Here’s who’s the vocalists are:

Anna Tomova-Sintov soprano

Gunther Leib baritone

Here’s who’s playing the music:

Rundfunk-Solistenvereinigung und Rundfunkchor Berlin

Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Berlin

Here’s the conductor:

Helmut Koch

This performance was recorded in 1973.

And it’s good.

I’m not usually one for vocal compositions. But this one is remarkably good – probably more for the talent of the performers and musicians than for Brahms’ composition. Regardless, I award this Favorite status.

Day 329: Sonata for Two Pianos

BrahmsCD23Beautiful music.

I guess, when you get right down to is, I’m partial to piano compositions, especially solo piano. But even sonatas written for two pianos (like what I’m listening to today) are compelling to me.

Here’s what’s on tap today:

Sonata for Two Pianos in F minor Op. 34bis

I’m not sure what “bis” means. I haven’t run across that before, to my knowledge.

Here’s who’s playing what’s on tap today:

Begonia Uriate piano
Karl-Hermann Mrongovius piano

According to the IMSLP web site, this was composed in 1864. If that’s true, Brahms was 31.

I think my favorites of the four movements are the last two – Movement III (“Scherzo: Allegro”) and Movement IV (“Finale: Poco sostenuto – Allegro non troppo – Presto non troppo”). They’re a bit bouncier, have a little more life to them.

Another Favorite Brahms composition!

Day 327: String Sextets

BrahmsCD21Johannes sure does love his pizzicato, the word for the plucking of stringed instruments (which, to me, always sounds like a character in a cartoon sneaking up on another character – you know, that tip-toe sound).

Because he uses it a lot.

So much so that its effect on me has diminished.

I used to love hearing it in a Classical composition, smiling whenever my ears would pick it out of a movement.

Now, I just think, “Must be Brahms.” Yawn.

Here’s what I’m listening to today:

String Sextet no. 1 in B flat Op. 18

Movement I (“Allegro ma non troppo”) runs the gamut from pastoral to pretentious, from melodic to mash-up. The instruments ebb and flow, sometimes building to a sound that resembles a “mash-up” video on YouTube in which someone has combined two songs into one. The ending of Movement I is all stringed instruments being plucked.

Why? I don’t know. Pizzicato is supposed to be like a caviar garnish – not a main course.

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The String Sextet No. 1 in B-flat major, Op. 18, was composed in 1860 by Johannes Brahms. It was published in 1862 by the firm of Fritz Simrock.

The sextet is scored for two violins, two violas, and two cellos.

There are earlier examples by Luigi Boccherini (two sets of six each). However, between the Boccherini and the Brahms, very few for stringed instruments without piano seem to have been written or published, whereas within the decades following Brahms’ two examples, a number of composers, including Antonín Dvořák, Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Joachim Raff, Max Reger, Arnold Schoenberg, and Erich Wolfgang Korngold, all wrote string sextets.

This sextet was used as soundtrack by French director Louis Malle in the movie “The Lovers” (“Les Amants”, 1958).

The sextet’s second movement is featured in the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Sarek”. The second movement is featured in “The Day of the Dead”, an episode of Inspector Morse.

Movement II (“Andante, ma moderato”) is actually very, very interesting. In fact, Continue reading

Day 325: Piano Quartet No. 3, Piano Quintet

BrahmsCD19What a minute.

To whom am I listening?

It can’t be Brahms.

Can it?

This is bold music, with an edge to it that I haven’t yet heard from Mrs. Brahms’ boy Johannes.

I was drawn in from the first chord of the piano, which rang out and then decayed. A few instruments played softly. Then another crashing piano chord. Then other instruments.

Movement II (“Scherzo: Allegro”) proved Movement I (“Allegro non troppo”) wasn’t a fluke. The music continues to be bold, unexpected, surprising, compelling.

This can’t be Brahms!

This piano concerto is dramatically different from other Brahms compositions that I’ve heard to date.

I like this.

A lot.

So much so that I award this Favorite Brahms Composition.

In the grand scheme, that doesn’t mean a whole lot. I realize that. Who cares what I think about Brahms, right?

I care. I want to remember that this particular CD was outstanding and that Continue reading

Day 311: Serenade No. 1

BrahmsCD5He had me at the French horns.

I’m a sucker for the sound of a French horn. To my ears, it’s incredibly mellifluous.

Brahms Serenda No. 1 in D Op. 11
is an absolute delight.

This is the first time (well, with his Symphony No. 4 closely behind) that I’ve been blown away by Brahms’ music. Serenade No. 1 is stirring, emotional, compelling, magical.

It’s music like this that made me want to listen to Classical music in the first place.

I don’t know what critics and fans think of Brahms’ early (1857) composition. But I like it. So who cares what others think, eh?

The musicians on today’s CD are:

Dresdner Philharmonie
Heinz Bongartz, conductor

According to its entry on Wikipedia:

The first serenade was completed in 1857. At that time, Brahms was also working on his First Piano Concerto. Originally scored for wind and string octet and then expanded into a longer work for chamber nonet, the serenade was later adapted for orchestra.

It consists of six movements and lasts slightly less than forty minutes.

Brahms was 24 when he composed Serenade No. 1. Perhaps his age has something to do with the exuberance I hear in this piece of music. It sounds like the work of a guy who’s trying to make a big splash in the Classical music world.

By way of contrast, Brahms’ symphonies were written decades later and they sound it. They’re sedate, even tame, by comparison.

Here’s what I’m listening to – and loving:

See what I mean? How could you not be stirred by that?

Day 309: Brahms’ Third Racket & Symphony No. 4

BrahmsCD3Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 will forever be associated (at least, in my mind) with this scene from the ’70s British TV series Fawlty Towers.

If you’re not familiar with Fawlty Towers, it’s about a snobbish, extremely rude hotel owner named Basil Fawlty (played to perfection by Monty Python alum John Cleese) who, along with his shrew wife Sybil (Prunella Scales) own and operate Fawlty Towers.

In this short-but-hilarious scene, Sybil chastises Basil for not getting to the chores she laid out for him to do (in this case, I believe it was to compose the day’s food menu). He dashes back to his typewriter to begin the task.

So, I’ve been listening to Brahms’ Third Racket this morning.

All joking aside, Brahms’ Symphony No. 3 in F Op. 90 is Continue reading