Daniël de Lange’s Strange “Requiem”

De Lange cover

DIEPENBROCK: Caelestis Urbs Jerusalem. DE LANGE: Requiem. RÖNTGEN: Wider den Frieden, Klage. Gleiewie die grünen Blätter auf. Kommy her zu mir, alle die ihr / Netherlands Chamber Choir; Uwe Gronostay, cond / Brilliant Classics 96016

This is a reissue if 1993-94 recordings by the Netherlands Chamber Choir on which, despite the presence of works by Alphons Diepenbrock and Julius Röntgen, its raison d’être is the very strange Requiem of Daniël de Lange (1841-1918), a Dutch composer little remembered today. Annotator Clemens Romijn calls it “without exaggeration…a monument of nineteenth century a cappella choral music,” set for two four-part choirs and two four-part solo ensembles of soprano, alto, tenor and bass.

Unfortunately, the recording leads off with the Diepenbrock Caelestis Urbs Jerusalem which is quite ordinary and unremarkable music, but as soon as we get into the de Lange Requiem we’re in an entirely different world. De Lange clearly had an acute ear for harmony and color; the intertwining lines and harmonies are quite sophisticated, even ethereal at times. In the opening “Requiem,” he uses space in the opening section in a quite unusual manner, and everything falls into place perfectly. By the 3:15 mark, we hear the two four-part solo ensembles playing against each other with superb and quite subtle intertwining of voices. Of particular interest is the manner in which de Lange spaces the voices, using wide intervals that were not really that common at the time.

The “Dies irae” is particularly interesting, using strong rhythms in the counterpoint between the different voices of the choir, then later on slowly increasing the tempo to a loud, minor-key climax, followed by a passage in which the harmony “falls” through the floor in a series of descending chromatics. Following this, de Lange doubles the tempo temporarily to create further tension, releasing it after a pause. The “Offertorium” swings along in a nice, relaxed 6/8 rhythm, the various voices (both collective and solo) intertw9ning quite nicely before he switches to a straight 4 at a somewhat faster clip for even more interesting vocal counterpoint—again, with interesting chromatic changes. The “Sanctus” starts out quite serenely, with quiet, lush chords sung by the full chorus before the two four-part vocal ensembles begin interweaving lines. But this is interrupted again by the full chorus before returning to them. De Lange continues to play with volume, harmony and different pacing as this section continues, although each section in this excellent piece has its own moments of interest.

The short motets that follow, by Röntgen, are also quite interesting in their use of rhythm and harmony. These were written near the end of his life, in 1929 (he was then 74 years old) and reflect at least in part some of the changes in music that had taken place since he began writing music many decades earlier. Here, too, we hear a lot of “falling chromatics” in the music, though of course these were far less unusual in 1929 than de Lange’s use of them in 1868. Nonetheless, the music is interesting, not least in his use of constantly shifting meter and, again, his use of rests in the music to create a feeling of tension.

An interesting CD, particularly for the de Lange Requiem.

—© 2021 Lynn René Bayley

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