In Umbra Mortis

Cappella Amsterdam, Daniel Reuss
Rihm – De Wert
Pentatone PTC 5186 948

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This programme alternates music by the contemporary German composer Wolfgang Rihm (b.1952) with that of the Renaissance master Giaches de Wert (1535-96). As the programme note observes, the music is ‘intertwined’, as we pass rapidly from early to contemporary music, inviting direct comparison. The choice of composers is inspired – Rihm’s idiom is firmly rooted in the Renaissance, while Wert’s seems to exhibit a prescience of modern harmonies. Rihm’s music is his Sieben Passions-Texte (2001-6), a considerable masterpiece, powerfully sung here by an ensemble of 24 voices. With a choir of this size, one of the main issues is blend, and this is achieved with an astonishing consistency here. The added power of the relatively large number of voices is palpable, and it is interesting that while the overlap in personnel with the smaller ensemble who sing the de Wert is considerable, the latter is not simply an offshoot of the former. The five- and six-part motets by de Wert, also penitential in mood, demonstrate his daring use of chromaticism and consummate mastery of structure. Such juxtapositions of repertoire are not always successful, but this one has been so carefully considered and superbly executed that both repertoires benefit from the encounter. I have one tiny reservation – there is a degree of background ‘clomping’, which may annoy some listeners. I found it distracting to start with, but soon forgot it in my enjoyment of this remarkable music.

D. James Ross

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