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Karl-Friedrich Beringer & Windsbacher Knabenchor
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Windsbacher Knabenchor in Munich

Andreas Burghardt wrote (April 14, 2002)
Yesterday the Windsbacher Knabenchor performed an entirely a cappella concert in Munich. The Erlöserkirche, where the concert took place, is a Lutheran church built in the late 19th century with a fine accoustic, located in Munich Schwabing, a district which is nowadays mainly known as a centre of Munich's night life. However in the 19th century it was a cultural centre where the highbrows and artists used to live. The Erlöserkirche was the place where the musician Max Reger worked for several years, so it is not surprising the a bigger part of the program was dedicated to him:

Heinrich Schütz "Jauchzet dem Herrn, alle Welt" (from the "Psalmen Davids" SWV 36)
Johann Bach "Unser Leben ist ein Schatten"
Johann Sebastian Bach "Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf", BWV 226
Johann Sebastian Bach "Präludium und Fuge C-Dur", BWV 547 played by Candida
Kirchhoff on the organ
Gustav Gunsenheimer "Die Heilung des Blinden"
Zoltan Kodaly "Jesus und die Krämer"
Rudolf Mauersberger "Wie liegt die Stadt so wüst"
Max Reger "Benedictus" played by Candida Kirchhoff on the organ
Max Reger "Der Mensch lebt und bestehet nur ein kleine Zeit"
Max Reger "O Lamm Gottes, unschüldig"
Max Reger "Nachtlied"
Johann Pachelbel "Singet dem Herrn alle Welt" (an an encore)

The Windsbacher Knabenchor, made up of 44 boys and 23 men's voices on this evening, was directed by Karl-Friedrich Beringer. The program was quite similar to the concert in Naumburg where Douglas, Peter, Ellen and I heard the choir last year. The blending of the choir is extraordinarily good. However I noticed that despite the size of the choir the fortissimo had not the power I would have expected but the sound is always clean and homogenous. I especially liked "Unser Leben ist ein Schatten" with the interaction between a huge six-part choir and a small three-part "Fernchor". The only disappointment was Johann Sebastian Bach's motet "Der Geist hilft unsrer Schwachheit auf". For my taste the tempo was too moderate and the soprano section sounded sometimes a little bit shrill. The Reger motets were all superbly performed. The concert was well attended and after the concert the artist received a long-lasting applause.

The choir stayed overnight with guest families and sung also in the Lutheran service this morning. They sung Johann Pachelbel's "Exultate Deo", Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy's "Hebe Deine Augen auf zu den Bergen" (Psalm 121) and some verses from the Lutheran hymn-book.

I am looking forward to next Sunday when the choir will participate in a service in Erlangen, which will be broadcast by Bavarian television. Thanks to André Hartung for this hint.

Douglas Neslund wrote (April 14, 2002):
[To Andreas Burghardt] My impression of the Windsbacher Knabenchor was already formed by some excellent recordings in my LP library purchased many years ago, when the choir was under the direction of the excellent conductor Hans Thamm (Bach Motets on Eurodisc), which for me compared favorably to the same repertoire recorded on Archiv by the Regensburger Domspatzen under the direction of Hanns-Martin Schneidt. The Windsbachers sang the motets as though they loved them, music and text, and expressed the texts better than the more mechanical but perfect Regensburgers.

The concert in Naumburg to which Andreas refers was very similar in content to that listed, and it would make sense that in preparation for a Far East tour (including Singapore), a solid core of the choir's repertoire would be finely-honed over a period of time leading up to the tour. In Naumburg, I was especially taken by the Windsbacher's incredible blend and balance among the disparate (and by some standards, huge) sections. Maestro Beringer conducts with minimalist choreonomy, but can elicit fortissimo thunder from his young singers when required. He is obviously a perfectionist, yet his singers' faces reflect their total dedication and sincere willingness to follow his lead, indicating that he is also able to work with them as human beings and not little machines. This happy blend of highly polished music-making is a joy to hear, and perhaps presents today's live audience with a musical experience better than that heard by contemporary audiences in the various composers' times. We are lucky to have such a fine boys'-young mans' choir amongst us.

For me, the epitome of the excellence this choir achieves as presented in Naumburg was Zoltan Kodaly's "Jesus and the Traders" - a composition by one of the best-ever choral composers of the last century, which encompasses the full range of emotional and therefore dynamic possibilities. The text describes the discovery by Jesus of traders and sellers in the Temple, and His outraged and uncharacteristically angry reaction. To bring this composition to full flower, even the best choir must reach its fullest potential. In this regard, the Windsbachers were prepared and eager – and the performance was riveting and memorable as a result.

Regensburger Domspatzen and Hannover Knabenchor presently form the primary competition for the Windsbachers. The Domspatzen are currently conducted by Roland Büchner. The Hannover boys, as you probably already know, have recently changed directors after the death of Founder Heinz Hennig; the new director is Jörg Breiding, who must, in fairness, be allowed two or three years' time to establish himself and to re-establish the choir as his own instrument.

Among the German choirs of this variety, that is, treble and alto boys, young male tenors and basses, the best blend without a doubt is that of the Windsbachers. Since both Windsbach and Regensburg have internats (dormitory housing), it is possible to compare relative blend. Somehow, Maestro Beringer has managed to create a seamless blend from top voices to bottom that is without equal. The Domspatzen do not quite measure up to this level of achievement. To be fair, no other young men-and-boys choir gain comparative blend; one may suggest Riga Dom Choir, whose blend is also superb, but not all the men who sing in the Riga are of high school or junior college age. Therefore, the blend is different, the basses more mature and capable of achieving a sound not unlike that of the unique Russian basso profondi, which young men could never achieve. In the opera world, it is said that adult voices do not truly settle until about age 35. I don't know the upper ages of the men in the Windsbacher Knabenchor, but they cannot exceed 21 or 22 years of age at most. Very often, and this can be heard most prominently in the otherwise wonderful Drakensberg Boys Choir, freshly changed voices often ruin a choral blend with unevenness and blaring tone; especially the Drakies' baritones seem to me to be too loud almost all the time. The refinement of the Windsbachers, therefore, is extraordinary, and to be cherished.

Thanks to Andreas for his excellent accounting, and we look forward to further reviews of this superlative choir's performances as they tour the world.

Windsbacher Knabenchor performing Matthäus-Passion BWV 244

Boyd Pehrson wrote (August 2, 2003):
For those of you in Germany who like to do things on short notice, this Saturday night the Windsbacher Knabenchor will be in performing Bach's Passion according to St Matthew (BWV 244). The concert will be in Ansbach, located 30km s.w. of Nürnberg. Windsbachers will be accompanied by their friends Deutsche Kammer-Virtuosen Berlin.

Here is the information from their webpage:

02 August 2003, 19:30
Johann Sebastian Bach:
Matthäus-Passion BWV 244

Sibylla Rubens (Sopran)
Elisabeth von Magnus (Alt)
Marcus Ullmann (Tenor; Arien)
Markus Schäfer (Tenor; Evangelist )
Sebastian Bluth (Bariton; Arien, Petrus, Pilatus)
Tobias Scharfenberger (Bass; Christus-Worte)

Windsbacher Knabenchor
Deutsche Kammer-Virtuosen Berlin
Friedemann Winklhofer (Orgel)
Christina Hussong (Ga)
Karl-Friedrich Beringer (Leitung)

Ansbach (St.Gumbertus) Tel: 0981 150 37

Andreas Burghardt wrote (August 3, 2003):
[To Boyd Pehrson] The mentioned performance of J.S. Bach's Matthäuspassion was the counterpart to a performance of the rediscovered Matthäus-Passion by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, performed some days before by the same artists. Enclosed a newspaper article from the Süddeutsche Zeitung:

Klingende Beutekunst

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs wiedergefundene Matthäus-Passion bei der Ansbacher Bach-Woche

Große Verwirrung herrschte zunächst nach dem spektakulären Fund des Nachlasses von Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, des musikhistorisch bedeutendsten Bach-Sohnes. In der Ukraine, wo die Manuskripte 1999 auftauchten, hatte man sich eine Geschichte zurecht gelegt, nach der sowjetische Soldaten sie aus einem brennenden Zug gerettet hätten. Die Deutschen wollten wenigstens Teile der umfangreichen Beutekunst zurück haben, die noch heute in den GUS-Staaten und Polen verstreut ist. Im Gegensatz zu Werken der bildenden Kunst ist es schwierig, zu vermitteln, welche Bedeutung diese Manuskripte für das Kulturleben haben, welchen Wert sie darstellen.

Deshalb kann man es den Veranstaltern der Ansbacher Bach-Woche, deren Renommee seit dem Tod Karl Richters gelitten hat, gar nicht hoch genug anrechnen, dass sie nun eines dieser verschollenen Werke aufs Programm setzten. Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, ein ebenso unterschätzter Komponist wie sein Zeitgenosse Michael Haydn - beide waren die erklärten Vorbilder von Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart -, hat ungefähr 20 Passionen komponiert, und wie man nun in Ansbach hören konnte, steht zumindest seine Matthäus-Passion von 1781 dem vergleichbaren Meisterwerk des Vaters in nicht allzu Vielem nach.

Ein paar Choräle hat der Sohn unmittelbar übernommen; im Übrigen aber zeigt sich sehr deutlich ein eigener Stil, der gegenüber dem Werk des Vaters vor allem durch eine freie Emotionalität gekennzeichnet ist. Wo sich Johann Sebastian Bach auf die Perfektion des Formalen zurückzieht, zeichnet der Sohn eine sehr persönliche Gefühlswelt, gestaltet alles farbiger, heller. Viele Choralzeilen enden in Dur, vermitteln Hoffnung, wo Johann Sebastian dunkles Grauen komponiert.

Karl Friedrich Beringer hätte mit seinem hervorragend präparierten Windsbacher Knabenchor solche Stellen noch plastischer herausarbeiten können. Er hätte dafür seinen Kirchenmusikstil überwinden müssen, der sich zum Beispiel in überlangen Schlussakkorden zeigt und im legatohaften Überbinden der Choralzeilen. Das sind Unsitten, die den Winsdsbacher Knabenchor dann doch nicht erstrangig erscheinen lassen, und die im Gegensatz zu den scharf konturierten Chorpartien von Johann
Sebastian Bach die fein ziselierten Partituren von Carl Philipp Emanuel aquarellartig verwischen. Das Ensemble "Deutsche Kammervirtuosen Berlin" konnte hierbei kaum gegensteuern. Insofern wurde hier die Chance ein wenig verschenkt, die Bedeutung Carl Philipp Emanuel Bachs angemessen hervorzuheben. Immerhin schlägt er die Brücke von Johann Sebastian Bach zu Mozart, was auf den ersten Blick kaum denkbar erscheint. Er besaß die geniale Technik des Vaters und hatte doch soviel eigene Vorstellungskraft, dass er revolutionär Neues schuf, die musikalische Sprache seines Zeitalters mit entwickelte: die Sprache der Empfindsamkeit, der Humanität.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach bleibt weiterhin zu entdecken; die Ansbacher Bach-Woche hat einen wertvollen Anstoß dazu gegeben.

Beringer recordings of cantatas

Bradley Lehman wrote (October 12, 2004):
Anybody here picked up this commemorative set yet? Thoughts about it?
25-year celebration of Karl-Friedrich Beringer and his Windsbach choir.

I'm an enthusiastic fan of their disc "ROP 2007" which has cantatas BWV 34, BWV 93 , and BWV 100. Considering the boxed special. That and their "ROP 2001" which has the Magnificat and three motets.

Karl-Friedrich Beringer: Short Biography | Windsbacher Knabenchor | Recordings: Part 1 | Part 2 | General Discussions

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