In the years immediately before the Second World War II, Marcel Tyberg was a promising young composer whose Second Symphony had been premiered in the 1930s by the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Rafael Kubelík. But for more than sixty years his name (pronounced ‘Tee-berg’) has been languishing in limbo, following his arrest by the Gestapo in 1944 and his deportation from his home in the northern Adriatic town of Abbazia in a cattle car, headed for an undisclosed concentration camp. Nothing more was known of his destiny except for an unconfirmed rumor that he had hanged himself on the train rather than face almost certain torture and extermination at the hands of the Nazis.
There were only a few insiders who remembered Tyberg, an introverted loner whose real life was in the torrents of music swirling around in his head. He cared little for acclaim and fame, and several times declined offers to publish his music. He did not thirst for fame nor did he crave earthly possessions. Even those few insiders presumed that his compositions had perished along with the composer.
Total time: 01:04:29
|Original Recording Format|
John Newton (Sound Mirror)
First-Plymouth Congregational Church, Lincoln, Nebraska, USA
|Recording Type & Bit Rate||
|Release Date||October 28, 2016|
MusicWeb International – Recording of the Month
The story of Marcel Tyberg is an intensely moving one. Born into a family of musicians in Vienna – his father was a violinist, his mother a pianist – Marcel’s musical education remains something of a mystery. That said, when he and his widowed mother moved to Abbazia, a Croatian town that was then part of Italy, he did get by as a teacher and composer. When the Nazis arrived in 1943 his mother naively informed them that one of her great grandfathers was Jewish. She died shortly afterwards, but her son was arrested and sent to Auschwitz. His death was recorded there on the last day of 1944.
Tyberg, a devout Catholic, wasn’t a prolific composer, but fortunately, he entrusted his manuscripts to the care of a friend, Dr Milan Mihich. The latter’s son Enrico, who become a successful doctor in the US, eventually showed the scores to JoAnn Falletta, music director of the Buffalo Philharmonic. She and the orchestra then went on to record Tyberg’s Second and Third symphonies – plus a sonata and trio – for Naxos. These works, so persuasively presented, are well worth your time and money. I daresay that team will get around to No. 1 in due course, but in the meantime, we have Pentatone to thank for recording his two Mass settings.
The organist in this new release is Christopher Jacobson, who impressed me enormously with his recording of pieces played on the magnificent Aeolian instrument of Duke University Chapel, Durham, North Carolina. Soundmirror, the boffins behind that technical tour de force, are in charge of this album, too. As for the South Dakota Chorale, a five-year-old group based in Sioux Falls, they’re described in the notes as a ‘collaborative network of musicians’. Led by their founder and artistic director Brian A. Schmidt they’ve already made several recordings; among them is Sacred Songs of Life and Love, much admired by John Quinn.
The Mass No. 1, composed in 1934, begins with a wonderfully rich and expansive Kyrie. There’s a pleasing weight to the choral sound and the organ, though powerful, never threatens to swamp the singers. The acoustic is a grateful one and the recorded balance seems just right. And while Tyberg’s writing isn’t terribly adventurous it has the virtue of being both direct and deeply felt. The very brief solos in the Gloria and Credo are magically done, the latter section alternating between flashes of vigour and moments of hushed reflection. The surging climax halfway through is just magnificent.
The artless candour of Tyberg’s craft invites both affection and respect; his rhythms are robust, the vocal line is varied and the music never outstays its welcome. The Sanctus, firmly underpinned by the organ, blossoms majestically before retreating into meditation for the organ alone. The high voices create a lovely corona of sound at the start of the Benedictus, and the discreet organ part in the Agnus Dei is perfectly judged. Ditto the ecstatic soprano solo that rises from the choir’s midst. For me at least the closing pages, so radiantly rendered, bring to mind the musical genuflection that crowns Bruckner’s unfinished Ninth Symphony.
On the face of it the second, much shorter Mass, composed seven years later, isn’t much different from the first; that said, the sheer splendour and weight of the organ part at the outset speak of a new assurance. The pithy vocal writing has more of an edge and the organ ripostes seem bolder than before. The Credo is dark-toned, but its hymn-like sections emerge with a contrasting certainty and power that’s very impressive indeed. After that, the small, perfectly formed Sanctus may seem a little plain, but Jacobson raises the roof with his splendid solo. In the Benedictus rapt singers twine above the gently reassuring organ part, while those who grace the Agnus Dei with their distant, seraphic voices really do belong with the angels.
What strikes me so forcibly is that Tyberg isn’t out to make a splash; instead, he’s always clear and proportionate, and his epiphanies, although rare, are all the far more affecting for that. I suppose one might be tempted to compare him with that other devout Catholic, Anton Bruckner, but really his response to these texts is more personal, more intimate and, perhaps most important, more open-hearted. Jacobson mirrors all that with his sensitive, beautifully scaled playing; as for Schmidt and his singers, they bring real commitment and passion to the mix. That they’re all so convincingly recorded is a not inconsiderable bonus.
Glorious music that burns with a steady, beckoning light; class-leading sonics, too.
When the Jewish Austrian composer Marcel Tyberg was arrested by the Gestapo at his Italian home in 1944 it did not come as a shock. Concerned for the safety of his music, Tyberg had already entrusted his scores to a friend, Dr Milan Mihich. Tyberg himself died in Auschwitz later that year but his music survived, and in the 1980s began to re-emerge in America, thanks to the efforts of Mihich’s son, now in possession of the manuscripts.
Where Tyberg’s symphonies are bittersweet affairs, charged with post-Romantic angst and occasional flashes of Shostakovich-like violence, his Masses are more nostalgic, fitting squarely into the Romantic Austro-Germanic mould of Bruckner and Rheinberger. Both Tyberg’s Masses, No 1 in G and No 2 in F, are grand, festal works, large on impact and low on intricacy. Unisons and choral homophony dominate, broken up by the occasional fugal episode.
An unexpectedly delicate choral Benedictus is the highlight of the Mass in G, as well as the charged opening mezzo solo of the sombre Agnus Dei (eternal peace, for Tyberg, is by no means a guarantee), and both ‘Hosannas’ are climactic affairs, well served here by organist Christopher Jackson and the organ of the First-Plymouth Congregational Church in Lincoln, Nebraska. The more emotionally expansive Mass in F is the more appealing work, lively with melodic invention, though still lacking the distinctive voice of the symphonies. The episodic Gloria, with its solo interjections and ensembles, is strikingly dramatic, and the lulling Sanctus gently attractive.
Directed by Brian A Schmidt, the South Dakota Chorale give exemplary performances – full-toned, carefully balanced and with just enough spin on the sound to keep the unisons interesting. Whether, however, it will be enough to persuade other ensembles to follow suit and explore Tyberg’s functional but oddly anonymous choral works remains to be seen.
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