Bruckner, Sechter, Lachner
A rare chance to hear Bruckner’s Te Deum and other religious choral music in a church: the Salzburg Cathedral Choir performed a selection in the Salzburg Cathedral.
Bruckner composed most of the works this afternoon when he was still the organist at the St. Florian Monastery, in a style instantly recognizable from his later orchestral music. The selection of assorted pieces displayed the mastery of Palestrina, albeit several centuries later – so by Bruckner’s day conservative, but understanding that saying something new in church music still required a reliance on transmitting the text. The Locus iste, which I heard performed in the Great Festival House last month, held up well in the muddier acoustics of the Cathedral, and Bruckner’s setting of Ave Maria truly deserves more attention. János Czifra conducted, ensuring that the chorus enunciated fully so that the text could emerge despite the blurry reverberations across the building. Although I do not know the acoustics of the St. Florian Monastery, this reading showed that Bruckner understood the importance of getting the religious message out in a venue that works essentially as an enormous damper pedal.
This became more noticeable with the addition to the program (not in the program as advertised) of two non-Bruckner works: short pieces by Bruckner’s composition professor at the Vienna Conservatory, Simon Sechter (after Sechter’s death, the Conservatory hired Bruckner to fill his chair), and another Sechter pupil Franz Lachner. Although similar in style, and performed by Czifra and the choir using the same technique, these pieces did not demonstrate the same mastery of space as Bruckner’s.
The concert built up to the featured work, Bruckner’s Te Deum, for which the Cathedral’s orchestra joined. I feared they might blow the roof off the building, despite being a small chamber orchestra (albeit with augmented brass). But Czifra, who has been the Cathedral’s Kapellmeister since 1987, knew his venue. Hearing this work in a cathedral was nothing like hearing it in concert (where it does get performed). Bruckner actually did write it for a concert hall and not for a church, but given his background it is certainly appropriate to bring it back to a relgious setting. Czifra made the group perform more delicately, allowing the building’s acoustics to mix the palette of sounds, but with sufficient stops inserted to avoid unwanted color – especially after hearing Bruckner’s earlier choral music, this presented a new and refreshing way to understand this composer’s later construction techniques.