Reviews

GMCD 7311 – Jersualem, du hochgebaute Stadt – G. Schumann

The Prucel Singers, Mark Ford – Conductor, Geraldine McGreevy – soprano , Peter Davies, Graham Lee, Andy Wood – Tenor Trombone, Richard Watkins, Mike Thompson, Philip Eastop – Horn, Owen Slade – Tuba, Stephen Henderson – Timpani

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INTERNATIONAL RECORD REVIEW SEPTEMBER 2007

Although the Purcell Singer recorded a disc of choral music by Georg Schumann (1866­1952) for ASV, reviewed with ‘a firm and enthusiastic recommendation’ by Martin Anderson in September 2000, his music was new to me. Two sets of Schumann’s chorale ­motets for mixed choir are here, the five of Op. 71 dating from 1921-22, with the three that form Op. 75 coming in 1934.
Gottfried Eberle’ s notes for Guild provide good descriptions of the music but say virtually nothing about Schumann. ‘Jerusalem, du hochgebaute Stadt’, Op. 75 No. 1, and the following ‘Sollt ich meinem Gott nicht singen?’ are for eight-part choir a cappella, whereas the third of the group, ‘Mit Fried und Freud’, has three horns, three trombones, tuba and timpani as an unhackneyed accompaniment. Eberle writes: Schumann retains his usual approach, which leads him from the simple harmonized original melody to his own music of symphonic scope, by means of thematic metamorphosis inspired completely by the meaning of the text, to an apotheosis of the original melody, and finally to a retrospective, summarizing coda.
‘Jerusalem’ is based on a melody by Melchior Frank. The recording was made in a church and is reverberant, with the sound echoing round and taking its time to die away. Listeners who like this type of recording will doubtless enjoy being bathed in such ambience. I prefer a much drier sound, with more clarity. There is certainly little about the music which should deter anybody, even though Schumann’s harmonies are often dissonant.
Such dissonance is effective in ‘Sollt ich meinem Gott’, on a melody by Johann Schop. This motet has much of harmonic interest, and how well the Purce]] Singers reveal it. Martin Luther’s text and original tune are used by Schumann in ‘Mit Fried und Freud’, with a lovely setting for the third verse, as a solo soprano holds a line above the choir, with the brass playing a solemn melody below.
Op. 7] begins with the longest motet, on Philipp Ni CO lai ‘ s Wie schOn leuch’ uns der Morgenstern. Schumann’s ‘spicy harmonies’ are conspicuous, unpleasantly so to my ears at the start of the third verse. ‘Ermuntre dich, mein schwacher Geist’, the third motet, held my attention more. Those two works and the second, ‘Jesus, meine Zuversicht’,  are unaccompanied, but the choir is joined by four trumpets, four trombones, tuba, timpani and organ for another Nicolai item, Wachet a’!f, nift uns die Stimme, the shortest piece (5’33”). Probably because Schumann stays more closely to the original here, I find this the most pleasing of the eight works. When the brass instruments enter in the third verse, one feels an impact that the rather recessed choir had not made. The final motet, on Luther’s Vom Himmel hoch, begins with two sopranos briefly adding their voice.
The 50 or so members of the Purcell Singers make a good noise in the over-spatial acoustic. On occasions, when returning to the text after consulting Eberle’s notes, I had difficulty in finding my place. For the choir’s contribution one has respect, and although I cannot echo my colleague’s enthusiasm [ do suggest that admirers of twentieth-century choral music should consider this CD, for many may wish that they had encountered Georg Schumann earlier.
John T. Hughes

Gramophone Awards 2007

Isn’t it time you made the acquaintance of the other Mr Schumann?
The name of Georg . Schumann will be unfamiliar to most readers.
He spent 50 years as director of the Berlin Sing-Akademie, the choir of which he described, when he first conducted them in 1900, as “extraordinarily musical”. He composed some music for organ and two piano quintets, but the vast bulk of his output was for this Berlin choir.
A disc of earlier choral pieces appeared in 2001 on ASV (also performed by the Purcell Singers under Mark Ford) but, as the booklet-notes tell us, the two works recorded here “crowned his a cappella output”.
This is gorgeous music; harmonically luxuriant and richly expressive, the musical language firmly rooted in late German Romanticism but concise enough that nothing seems extravagant or superfluous. Accordingly the Purcell Singers come up with sumptuous performances, impressive in their breadth and tonal range. Ford paces things just right so that we can savour the opulence of the sound without any hint of overindulgence, and his dynamic control is, at times, quite miraculous; there is a spellbinding diminuendo after 9′ 15″ in “Sollt ich meinem Gott nicht Singen?” from the Op 75 motets, followed )by an equally breathtaking crescendo.
These are not all a cappella works; one motet in each set has instrumental accompaniment. In the case of Op 75 it is “Mit Fried und Freud”, where distant timpani underpin a mystical chorale from the men’s voices while Geraldine McGreevy floats ethereally above a solemn brass chorus. Rich and lovely as that is, it pales into insignificance besides the riveting and majestic setting of ‘Wachet auf” from the Op 71 set. The sheer splendour of this is perfectly captured in the superb Guild recording.
Readers for whom the name Georg Schurnann remains unfamiliar after listening to this hugely impressive disc only have themselves to blame.
Marc Rochester

KLASSIK COM Thursday November 08 2007

Aus englischer Sicht
*** Interpretation
** Klangqualität
*** Repertoirewert
*** Booklet
Georg Schuman ist weder verwandt noch verschwägert mit Robert Schumann. Beide stammten zwar aus Sachsen, beide waren sie Pianisten und Komponisten. Aber damit erschöpfen sich die Parallelen zwischen den Namensvettern. Georg Schumann (1866-1952) war seit 1900 Leiter der Berliner Sing-Akademie, langjähriges Mitglied und später Präsident der Preußischen Akademie der Künste und hat zusammen mit Richard Strauss und anderen die Genossenschaft deutscher Tonsetzer (die heutige GEMA) gegründet. Er setzte sich für die authentische Aufführung der Werke Johann Sebastian Bachs ein, war engagierter Chorleiter und komponierte ein mehr als 100 Werke umfassendes œuvre mit Schwerpunkt auf Chormusik. Als Komponist jedoch ist Schumann zu einem typischen Fall für Labels wie ,Guild’ aus der Schweiz geworden, dessen Programmschwerpunkt u.a. vergessene oder kaum entdeckte Komponisten sind. Ein wenig kurios ist, dass sich  der auf der hier vorliegenden CD-Produktion acht spätromantischen deutschen Choral-Motetten ausgerechnet ein englisches Vokalensemble – die ,Purcell Singers’ aus London – angenommen haben.
Klang im Überfluss
Es steht leider nicht zu hoffen, dass Schumann mit den Leistungen des Chors unter der Leitung von Mark Ford einen Zuwachs an Popularität erfährt. Wegen des undifferenzierten, recht halligen Klangbilds der Aufnahme leidet der Genuss an dieser eigentlich reizvollen Musik erheblich. Wie nicht selten bei englischen Choraufnahmen wähnt man sich in einer riesigen Kathedrale, in der viel Räumlichkeit viel Homogenität erzeugen soll. Leider ist das Gegenteil der Fall: Einzelne Vokalisten – meist vibratogeladene Sopräne – stechen unangenehm heraus und die Tongebilde sind wabrig. Die harmonische und verbale Artikulation geht bei den drei achtstimmigen Choral-Motetten op. 75 (1934) und den fünf Choral-Motetten op. 71 (1921/22) verloren und kompositorische Finessen unter. Die Stücke, darunter Bearbeitungen der Choral-Klassiker ,Wie schön leucht’ uns der Morgenstern’, ,Jesus, meine Zuversicht, ,Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’ und ,Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her’, sind nämlich melodisch und vor allem harmonisch um einiges verwegener als bei Vorbildern wie etwa Johannes Brahms oder Max Reger, so dass das Gefühl für die Tonalität auf angenehme Weise durcheinander gewirbelt wird. Etwas anstrengend wird es allerdings, wenn man dem Ensemble nach relativ kurzer Zeit in Sachen intonatorischer Sauberkeit nicht mehr vertraut. Da nämlich punkten die Purcell Singers wenig. Während die Phrasierungen vorbildlich und liebevoll gestaltet sind und auch die deutsche Aussprache für ein englisches Ensemble relativ gut ist, fehlt es dem a cappella-Gesang an stimmlicher Brillanz. Wer ein gutes Gehör hat, den beschleicht mehrfach das Bedürfnis, die Töne hoch- oder runterzudimmen, um die Harmonien in ein besseres Licht zu stellen.
Könnte man diese Minuspunkte einfach ignorieren, hätte man es mit durchaus bewegender, dabei überwiegend getragener, homophoner geistlicher Chormusik zu tun, die zwar manchmal leicht am Kitsch vorbeischrammt, aber dennoch ansprechend und hörenswert ist. Unter anderen klanglichen Bedingungen wäre sie bestimmt eine Entdeckung.
Gabriele Pilhofer

MusicWeb Thursday August 02 2007

Georg Schumann came from a family of musicians: his father was the town music director in Königstein, his grandfather was a Kantor and his brother Camillo was also a composer. Georg studied music with his father and grandfather before continuing at Dresden and at the Leipzig Conservatoire. A talented conductor and choir trainer, he settled in Berlin in 1900 where he became director of the Sing-Akademie. He found the choir extraordinarily musical and it learned music quickly. This gave an impetus to his composing and he wrote his first piece for them, Drei geistliche Lieder in 1902.
In 1916 he was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Friedrich Wilhelm University. War and post-war chaos prevented him from writing a piece in response to the honour. Finally in 1921 he wrote the Five Chorale Motets, Op. 71, which were first performed by the Berliner Sing-Akademie in 1922.
The motets are well wrought pieces, firmly in the tradition of Bach, Mendelssohn and Brahms. But they are also rooted in the 20th century, though the tradition to which Schumann belonged is the conservative one. Schumann’s music is closer to Reger and Pfitzner than it is to Strauss, Berg or Schoenberg.
Schumann’s chorale-based motets are not slavish followers of the past. His harmonisations of the chorale melody are often quite idiomatic. After a statement of the chorale he transforms the theme almost beyond recognition, firmly placing motifs in modern harmonic relationships. He was equally free with the words, adjusting texts to suit his own purposes.
The first motet in the set is based on a chorale by Nicolai. Schumann alternates the high and low voices to magical effect at the opening of the piece. By the middle of the piece, Schumann is getting quite harmonically adventurous and the chorale almost disappears. The following two motets are very similar in construction and sound-world. Only in the fourth motet, “Wachet auf”, does he vary the structure, by introducing first organ accompaniment in the second verse and brass accompaniment in the third. The result is very stirring and would certainly bear reviving.
For the final motet of the group, Schumann reverts to an unaccompanied choir, but here they accompany two soprano soloists. The opening, with its soprano solo and high-voiced choir, as if coming from celestial heights, is quite magical.
Schumann’s next group of choral pieces were written in 1932 and first performed in 1934 again by the Sing-Akademie. The Three Chorale Motets, Op. 75 are again structured along the lines of the earlier pieces. Despite their late date, they remain firmly in the world of Wagner and Liszt. Like the earlier motets, one is rather more festal and uses an accompaniment of horns, trombones, tuba and timpani.
These are well-wrought, symphonic-scale pieces. The longest motets last over eleven minutes and the shortest is nearly six minutes long. They would make strong items in a mixed choral programme and sound as if they are rewarding to sing. In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that they are probably as much fun to sing as to listen to … possibly more so.
The Purcell Singers under their conductor Mark Ford have already recorded a disc of Schumann’s earlier motets for ASV. This disc of the later pieces complements that neatly. In his Gramophone review of the ASV disc, Malcolm Riley described the disc as ‘revelatory’.
The choir make a warm, well-blended sound and respond well to Schumann’s luxuriant textures. As recorded here, they use a big, vibrato-laden sound which does not always work well with Schumann’s chromaticism. When Schumann’s textures get complex I would sometimes have liked a greater sense of line and clarity of texture rather than the suave and resolved choral sound produced here. There are odd moments of raw tone in the tenors and sopranos, but not enough to disturb.
These are fine performances of well-crafted music. Anyone interested in the byways of German neo-Romantic composers in the 20th century would be well advised to try this disc.
Robert Hugill