Is there any better way to start the week than with the soothing sounds of a Catholic Mass setting?
VOCES8 just released this resplendent rendition of Josef Rheinberger’s “Kyrie,” from his Mass in E-flat. The piece is remarkable for its expressive melody that draws on Late Renaissance polyphonic stylings, while merging them with the Romantic. These comforting tones of the Catholic Mass are just perfect to start off the week.
Although it was written for a double-choir, the small chamber group maintains the expansive sound quality of a much larger group. Their exquisite harmonies are only aided by the excellent reverberations offered by the VOCES8 Centre, where it was recorded. There are several times when clear overtones break through, such as in the final chord.
Josef Rheinberger was a 19th-century composer who was immensely and unusually talented. Like Mozart, he was a child prodigy. He held the position of organist at his parish church at the age of seven. After graduating from the Munich Conservatorium, he was asked to stay on as a professor of piano. Along with his career as a court composer, he remained an educator his entire life.
Rheinberger was a prolific composer, and his “Mass in E-flat” is only one of 12 Mass settings attributed to him. He was also the author of a Requiem and Stabat Mater, along with several operas, symphonies, and chamber works. While his choral works are celebrated, he is most remembered for his organ works, for which he is often compared to Felix Mendelssohn.
According to Hyperion, his “Mass in E-flat,” his most famous choral piece, was dedicated to Pope Leo XIII. The piece was written in direct conflict with a conservative movement to reform Catholic music, known as the Cecilian movement. Hyperion explains the history:
“Cecilians attempted to place church music firmly within the liturgy by deliberately suppressing musical individuality in favour of clear declamation of the text and a rejection of all artistic gestures associated with the Enlightenment. Rheinberger’s double-choir Mass—though undeniably dependent on earlier models—exhibits the composer’s new-found freedom and flexibility when writing sacred music.”