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This set of recordings, originally released between 1968 and 2009 by various companies, has been gathered together by Carus to coincide with its publication of a complete edition of Rheinberger’s music. All of Rheinberger’s sacred vocal music is gathered together in an attractively packaged box set at a bargain price. The 10 CDs are accompanied by a well-produced booklet containing full notes, photo- graphs and – perhaps most important of all – full sung texts and translations. None of the recordings is less than adequate and a great many of them are very good indeed.

The range of material is astonishing: Masses, Requiems, motets, and psalm settings, as well as his highly accomplished Christmas cantata, The Star of Bethlehem. They reveal much about Rheinberger the man and the musician, who devoted so much of his professional life in the service of the church and church music. His fondness for Gregorian chant, his ability to spin a finely honed melody and his contrapuntal skills are all brought together in his sacred music. Pick at random any one of the ten discs in this set and your ear will be immediately arrested by these qualities. The late set of unaccompanied Advent motets, op.176, are among my favourites, quasi-Brahmsian in manner but with a less rhythmically intricate footprint. They receive here a simply superb reading from the Vocalensemble Rastatt under Holger Speck – unfussy, beautifully recorded and unsentimental in approach. And the same is true of the contributions by the Vancouver Cantata Singers, the Frankfurter Cantorei and others. The choral forces for these recordings were chosen well.

The final disc contains Rheinberger’s very Brahmsian cantata The Star of Bethlehem, which was conceived for the concert hall rather than the cloister. This 1968 recording stands up very well, and includes exceptional contributions from Rita Streich and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, under Robert Heger. The Bavarian Radio Choir are in excellent voice and Heger makes a compelling case for this unjustly neglected work (though it was once well-known in Germany), in which Rheinberger sought to evoke the folksiness of Bavarian Christmas nativity scenes.

There is a cornucopia of material within these discs to refresh the repertoire of any choir looking for something out of the ordinary. Carus and the many performers on these discs are to be warmly congratulated for the care they have brought to the project. Worth investigating.

PHILIP REED Read the full review on Agora Classica


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