Mauersberger: Dresdener Requiem / Jung, Dresdner Kreuzchor

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Rudolf Mauersberger (1889–1971) served as Cantor of the Kreuzkirche in Dresden for the final 41 years of his life, starting in 1930. He is reputed to have battled to preserve the church tradition through the dictatorships of both the third Reich and the postwar communist regime. Mauersberger is considered to be one of the most important German church musicians of the 20th century, and before one belittles the concept of church musician, let us remember Bach!

Mauersberg may not be a Bach—but based on this disc he is a musician of originality with the ability to communicate on the deepest level. Both of these works are a part of his reaction to the horrors of the destruction of Dresden by bombing on the night of February 13, 1945. In fact, it has now become an annual tradition to perform this Dresdner Requiem every February 13th in the Kreuzkirche. There will be some who will find listening to this music difficult because they will find it hard to experience sympathy or empathy for the German citizens’ suffering in the 1940s. While I can understand that reaction, it isn’t one I share—and more to the point, if any music is to succeed as a work of art it must be removed from the specifics of whatever event inspired it and speak to the human condition without those specifics. This music surely does that.

Dresdner Requiem is a 55-minute score of immense imagination and power. Written for boys’ choir and some sparse instrumentation (bells, solo brass instruments, percussion, double basses, celesta, and organ), it is a harrowing and deeply moving experience. The writing is very sparse, at times seemingly rooted in the music of the 14th and 15th centuries, at times taking advantage of the harmonic palette of the 20th century. Apart from the Latin Requiem aeternam introduction, the text is in German—consisting of biblical passages and hymn texts. Much of the music is a cappella, the instruments being called on to add occasional color. The music was composed in 1947 and 1948, and revised a few times after that until its final version was produced in 1961.

Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst or (“How Lonely Sits the City”) is Mauersberger’s very first musical reaction to that bombing, written almost immediately after the event. It is a brief motet of mourning and was sung for the first time in the ruins of the Kreuzkirche on August 4, 1945. Its sparse harmonies and the affecting shape of its melodic material make for a powerful piece. The Dresden Kreuzchor is a boys’ choir of superb quality, and with a long and illustrious history. In fact, the solos written for boy alto in the Requiem were composed originally for the then-choirboy Peter Schreier! The current version of this choir sings with excellent intonation and a greater variety of color than one usually hears from this type of ensemble. The performances of both works have a strong emotional component in addition to their musical skills. Carus provides multilingual notes and full texts and translations. The recorded sound is clear, natural, and open. You should be warned that the dynamic range is very wide—some may find it too much so (I did not).

This disc surprised me—music with such a strong communicative ability is rare, and to hear it from a name I had never encountered before was an unexpected pleasure. To be sure, this is neither light listening nor background music. But if you permit yourself to enter Mauersberger’s world, you will find it a very moving experience.

-- Henry Fogel, FANFARE

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CV83328

  • UPC: 4009350833289

  • Label: Carus

  • Composer: Rudolf Mauersberger

  • Conductor: Matthias Jung

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Dresden Kreuz Choir, Dresden Philharmonic Orchestra members