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Laudate Chor and Julius Berger
Two Stabat Maters at Fraumünster, Zurich 6 June 2004

Julius Berger CDs (Bloch, Gubaidulina etc)

Knut Nystedt Stabat Mater for mixed choir and solo cello
Max Reger 2nd Suite for cello solo
Domenico Scarlatti Stabat Mater

Returning to London with a stop-over in Zurich made it possible to take in a memorable choral concert, as a worthy pendant to the Musica Sacra International festival in Germany.

At Fraumünster, famous for its Chagall windows, Zurich's Laudate Chor - some 40 singers, active in the city for more than 25 years - was joined by Julius Berger, an eminent cellist from Augsburg, for an unusual concert juxtaposing two settings of Stabat Mater, the brilliant contrapuntal masterwork by the young Domenico Scarlatti set against rarities of great interest by the Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt (b.1915) and Max Reger.

Nystedt's Stabat Mater (1968), a veritable 17 mins cello concerto with choir, is a rare example of an unusual and fruitful genre (q.v. my report of Concerto per la beata Vergine for oboe and mixed choir by Vic Nees).

A moving representation of the emotions depicted in the familiar text, the cello's impassioned utterances are supported by the choir treated homophonically in evocative harmony; it must be wonderful to sing and was quite glorious heard in the Fraumünster's perfect acoustics, resonant yet clear.

Next, Julius Berger held the near capacity audience spellbound with Reger's D minor solo suite Op 131c, which takes Bach's suites as its model; why are Bach's played so often and Reger's practically unknown?

To end a perfect hour and a half, the choir was strengthened with ten semi-professional soloists for Scarlatti's demonstration of his skills in handling the large scale canvas of Stabat Mater for 10-part choir, 10 soloists and continuo (an expert group of baroque instrumentalists) under the assured and sensitive direction of Michael Gohl.

I was told that Laudate Chor sing for pleasure, have an interesting repertoire and programme including staging oratorios, but have opted not to go through the route of choir competitions.

They have been thinking about possibly making a CD; this collaboration with Julius Berger should encourage them to take the plunge, and certainly to bring Nystedt's Stabat Mater to a wider audience. With conductor Michael Gohl and voice trainers Annelise Ritzmann and Thomas Moser, Laudate has no need to fear that they are unready to produce one of these useful 'visiting cards', such as we have been given by many choirs during festivals at Rhodes, Cork and Marktoberdorf and by musicians elsewhere on our travels.

Julius Berger's impressive discography was on display at the entrance. Those received for review cover an unusually enterprising range of 20 C music. Others include music by George Enescu, Michael Wolpe, Wilhelm Killmayer and Hindemith.

The Wergo recordings of 'cutting edge' music are admirable, but I would warn that John Cage's number pieces (they totalled 47, composed on computer in his last years) are dauntingly rarified.

I would therefore recommend first the stunning Gubaidulina CD (cello and accordion - deputising for organ and shõ) of religious-inspired works (Seven Words & The Cross) and that you consider too the one with Hosokawa, also with accordionist Stefan Hussong.

A more main stream CD brings together all the works for cello and orchestra by Ernest Bloch, whose Jewish music is perhaps less often heard than a few decades ago. Schelomo and Voice in the Wilderness are substantial contributions to the cello repertoire and receive fine accounts from Berger with the Polish Radio Orchestra and Antoni Wit.

A seredipitous detour on the way home from Marktoberdorf, to where I would suggest Julius Berger be invited to take the Nystedt Stabat Mater to a future Musica Sacra International festival?

Julius Berger with Sofia Gubaidulina and Stefan Hussong

BACH 6 Suites for Cello,BWV1007-12 Julius Berger
Wergo CD WER4041-2 (133 minutes : DDD)

- - Wergo quotes Couperin, Mattheson, Brossard, Quantz, Hindemith and Gubaidulina on the character of Bach’s music. Berger himself speaks of a “joy inspired by the most radiant peak of tonal art”, and anyone listening will happily concur. It is indeed a wonderful set, more compelling than most modern rivals, excepting Janos Starker (his fourth recording) and Anner Bylsma (his second). I urge you to hear it.' Gramophone 6/1998

© Peter Grahame Woolf