Bruckner: Mass in E minor & Motets (CD Review - Bay Area Reporter, 2007)

Hyperion is on a roll. Its superb new CD of Anton Bruckner's choral music, with the chorus Polyphony under the direction of Stephen Layton, includes both a mass, the second in E minor, and seven of the composer's motets. Here there's no overt attempt to say which form of music is superior, though again the motets for unaccompanied choir do seem to win out.

Bruckner scored the E-minor Mass for chorus and wind band instead of conventional orchestra with stings, and the Britten Sinfonia joins Polyphony for a compelling reading. It climaxes in a glowing Agnus Dei whose dense chromaticism brings the music to a lofty conclusion.

But the motet "Christus factus est," which immediately follows the mass and continues its musical explorations, leaves no doubt where the substance of this CD lies. Recorded in the resplendent but not over-resonant acoustics of Britain's Ely Cathedral, the choristers unleash a sound of staggering richness and power. That said, it's the energized little silences Layton enforces between phrases that, often as not, send them vaulting across the music's interior spaces. This is trenchant singing that frequently knocks the wind out of you. From the floating "Ave Maria" that opens the CD to the aching simplicity of the "Pange lingua" that ends it, it sweeps you away.

See Recording Details