Choral Works d440, 706, 815, 985 (+ Brahms)

Choral Works d440, 706, 815, 985 [+ Brahms opp. 29, n.1-2, 74]. Choir of King’s College, Cambridge/Ledger (HMV)


These occasional choral pieces have been solemnly rebaptized “Motets” and deemed to be sacred. Really, is nothing secular these days? The rationale of this music is surely that the deist Schubert had dear friends in ladies' academies or salons, while the agnostic Brahms directed a ladies' choir. Both composers would naturally have had women in mind, not choirboys, and soirees, not matins.

     On such scores the King's College Choir sounds quite wrong to me. To some extent they redeem themselves by devoted performance of good works. As might he expected, Philip Ledger secures a good balance, with some generally accurate entries. But the swung choristers still seem less attractive investments than their intended feminine counterparts; and their diction often sounds too spry and chirpy, especially for the darker sonorities of Luther's Bible.

       Some of the notes too are on the debit side. Thus Brahms op.74 was certainly not “written in 1879” (to help date it, consider the tests, which were hardly chosen for devotional reasons: if Brahms set Job and Jeremiah it was presumably at a time – in the 1850s? – when he imagined himself as combining the patience of the former with the lamentations of the latter). Finally, the translators are frequently at a loss: and so will their readers be. d440 for example. Christ ist erstanden is rendered down into uncomprehending drivel, in which the perpetrator has had the nerve to claim copyright. Not, on balance, a credit to a great record company.       


The Musical Times, Feb. 1976 (p. 148) © the estate of eric sams