Britten, Tischhauser, Tignor / Brooklyn Rider

Media Review / Listening Diary 2012-07-31

2012-07-30 — Original posting (on Blogger)
2013-08-01 — New standard layout applied
2014-11-03 — Re-posting as is (WordPress)
2016-06-27 — Brushed up for better readability
2023-11-23 — Split off from original posting

Table of Contents

Vocal Music by Benjamin Britten

The Recordings

Benjamin Britten: “A Boy Was Born”

Britten: A Boy was born, Christophers, CD, cover

Benjamin Britten: “A Boy Was Born”; Hymn to St. Cecilia; Choral Dances from “Gloriana”; Five Flower Songs

Harry Christophers, The Sixteen

Collins 12862 (CD, stereo, ℗ / © 1992

Britten: A Boy was born, Christophers, CD, EAN-13 barcode
amazon media link

Benjamin Britten: Hymn to St. Cecilia

Britten: Blessed Cecilia, Cantalea, Tschuor, CD cover

Benjamin Britten: Hymn to St. Cecilia; works by various composers

Thomas Tschuor, Chorensemble Cantalea Uster; Blockflötenquartett

Private recording, live, April 1997 (CD, stereo)


The reason for me to have a recording of some of Britten’s vocal works is that in 1997 I was singing in a local choir (that used to be my wife’s choir, hence its name “Cantalea”). We were performing — among other works — Benjamin Britten‘s “Hymn to St. Cecilia“, so I purchased Harry Christopher’s recording with his choir “The Sixteen” as reference.

The “Hymn to St. Cecilia”

Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia is a nice composition (and Christopher’s rendering is definitely good!), though not my favorite one by this composer. While re-listening this CD after many years, my clear favorite were the Choral Dances from “Gloriana” for Tenor, Harp, and Chorus (with Ian Partridge, tenor, and Helen Turnstall, harp). Some may state they were composed in popular, maybe overly tonal style. I found them to be almost addictive: I could listen to these over and over again!

A “Local CD”

The second CD shown here is not commercially available, merely a personal “piece of memory”. It serves as reminiscence of the time when I was singing in my wife’s choir “Chorensemble Cantalea Uster“, then directed by Thomas Tschuor (music teacher at a high school in Zurich-Oerlikon). In that concert we not only performed Britten’s “Hymn to St. Cecilia”, but also other choral works. In the same concert, my wife Lea was performing in a recorder quartet, playing baroque works (Bach and Walther), as well as works by modern composers such as Ryōhei Hirose (1930 – 2008), and Stefan Thomas (*1968).

Certainly, our Britten could not compete with Harry Christopher’s performance — we were an ensemble of non-professionals, after all. But I should mention that Thomas Tschuor had a talent to locate / dig out interesting, small works of newer, unknown composers. In this concert performance, I particularly liked re-listening to the two Psalms (Psalm 109, “Dixit Dominus”, and Psalm 111 “Beatus vir”) by the Polish composer Józef Świder (1930 – 2014), composed in 1990 — we liked these pieces (not all that easy to keep the intonation clean), and the performance on this CD is not all that bad, after all!

Franz Tischhauser: “Die Hampeloper”

Tischhauser: Die Hampeloper, Tschupp, Camerata Zürich, CD, cover

Franz Tischhauser: “Die Hampeloper” or “Joggeli söll ga Birli schüttle!”; “Omaggi a Mälzel”; Kassation für neun Instrumente

Räto Tschupp, Singkreis Zürich, Camerata Zürich

MGB CD 6094 (CD, stereo); ℗ / © 1997

Tischhauser: Die Hampeloper, Tschupp, Camerata Zürich, CD, EAN-13 barcode
amazon media link

I have had this CD with music by the Swiss composer Franz Tischhauser (1921 – 2016) for a couple of years. The only reason for this purchase was that in the very last performance of my wife’s little choir “Chorensemble Cantalea Uster” we were invited to sing the choral part of Franz Tischhauser’s “Hampeloper” under the direction of the late Räto Tschupp, who had also directed the piece’s world première in Zurich, recorded on this CD.

The “Hampel Opera” as a Composition, “Libretto”

As the second title indicates, it’s a piece sung in Swiss German. The text is that of a children’s book (call it an “early comic”!) that already my father had as a child, and I definitely remember how my grandparents showed and told it to me as well. By now, the booklet is probably on its way to oblivion.

It’s a simple story: the peasant sends out Joggeli (little Jacob in Swiss German, pronounced like “yagghely”) to pick the pears from a tree. Joggeli does not want to pick the pears, the pears don’t want to fall. So the master sends out the dog, to bite Joggeli. The dog doesn’t want to bite … in the end there’s a butcher who doesn’t want to stab a calf which doesn’t want to lick water which doesn’t want to extinguish a fire that doesn’t want to burn a stick that doesn’t want to beat a dog that doesn’t want to bite Joggeli who doesn’t want to pick the pears which don’t want to fall — and finally the master resolves this mess by taking things into his own hands …

It’s a nice little story — and in principle also a nice little piece of music with eight soloists and a choir in three groups, depicting the three trees in the orchard. For sure, this is the only recording in existence of this piece: basically a nice performance — with one big, unfortunate exception: the role of Joggeli is written for coloratura soprano, and the person in that role was severely overstraining her diaphragm, resulting in an extreme, strong vibrato of about 10 Hz — hard to listen to!

The Other Pieces on the CD

The other pieces on this CD are purely instrumental: “Omaggi a Mälzel” (Mälzel as the inventor of the metronome) is the more interesting of the two. It’s a sequence of pieces, fast and slow, all using the same basic beat (ca. 70 bpm): ritardandi and tempo changes are all “written out”, using hemioles, syncopated rhythms, rhythmic shifting. It’s nice, entertaining music, easy to hear, tonal, with jazzy elements. Tischhauser worked for the Swiss Radio in Zurich, composing was a hobby for him — he only created a handful of works (a total of about 6 hours of music), often citing popular melodies by other composers, or folk songs, humorous almost throughout.

The “Kassation” for 9 instruments is perhaps the weakest of the works on this CD, even though it has elements that remind of some of György Ligeti’s 6 Bagatelles for wind quintet. One could also claim that some of these pieces remind of jingles used as musical separators in radio features, or as accompaniment for radio features for children in the 80’s/90’s (Tischhauser was working for the radio, after all!). I suspect that this CD is hard to get anywhere by now, if at all.

Brooklyn Rider / Christopher Tignor

Beethoven, string quartets op.131; Seven Steps, Brooklyn Rider, CD cover

Ludwig van Beethoven: String Quartet Nr.14 op.131; Brooklyn Rider: Seven Steps;
Christopher Tignor: Together Into This Unknowable Night

Brooklyn Rider, Christopher Tignor

In a Circle Records IRC005 (CD, stereo); © 2012

Beethoven, string quartets op.131; Seven Steps, Brooklyn Rider, UPC-A barcode
amazon media link

I bought this CD in order to include Brooklyn Rider’s interpretation of Beethoven’s string quartet op.131 in my upcoming review. The CD includes a piece composed and performed by the artists (Brooklyn Rider, i.e., Johnny Gandelsman, Colin Jacobsen, Nicholas Cords, and Eric Jacobsen). There is also a piece by Christopher Tignor, “Together Into This Unknowable Night”, performed by Brooklyn Rider and the composer (AM radio, electronic live sampling and percussion).

So far, I have only listened to this latter piece (apart from short online previews of the Beethoven quartet) — and I quite like it! To me, it sounds like an interesting mix of minimal music, musique concrète, post-modern elements, sometimes alluding to Indian music, meditative, post-modern, “dissonant, yet harmonic” — I actually like the piece!

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