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The Carus legacy is an important one. For 40 years, the Stuttgart-based imprint has been publishing academically sound editions of sacred choral music and releasing definitive recordings of often relatively little known repertoire. it is now perhaps difficult to remember how chaotic – or more kindly, ad hoc and laissez-faire – the choral library seemed prior to 1972. as a celebration, the Carus Classics set could hardly be more fitting. Even before any music is played, design values seem to represent a strong mission statement. instead of mixed and anachronistic imagery, a fresco here, a stained-glass window there, all the covers feature abstract designs by Cornelia Feyll and Friedrich Forssman. They’re reminiscent of the old Fontana Modern Masters paperbacks, and the series as a whole has something of the same ‘primer’ feel.

Scarlatti and Vivaldi are the earliest composers represented, followed by Mozart and his exact contemporary Kraus. The chronology stretches as far as Rheinberger, whose dates just tiptoe into the 20th century, and the now unfashionable Reger, who can only rarely have enjoyed such a sympathetic reading by a present-day choir; why are these pieces, and in particular the deceptively simple Ausgewählte Volkslieder for male and for mixed choir, not more frequently performed outside Germany?

Performances are as crisp and detailed as the presentation, and inevitably the most interesting items tend to be those that break less familiar ground, like strong readings of romantic music for male voices by Collegium Vocale Limburg: Mendelssohn, Cornelius and Rheinberger – the last a Carus speciality – are represented, and the sets devoted to Kraus and Silcher. German (particularly Stuttgart) and Baltic musicians and concert/sacred spaces are well represented, but it’s nice to have an American choir giving Scarlatti in what sounds like a modern but responsive concert hall.

Where multiple works are included, as they are in most cases, care has been taken to build a logical and satisfying programme. The Schubert Mass in G is partnered by the D486 Magnificat and the D872 Deutsche Messe, plus a pair of SATB Salve Regina arrangements from later in the composer’s work list, giving a clear sense – as satisfying to an experienced listener as to a beginner – of Schubert’s approach to sacred traditions. as with all the releases, a substantial booklet contextualises the work without undue technicality but with considerable depth and intelligence. There’s nothing to quibble over here, no sense of tokenism or self-congratulation either; just a very strong representation of a key publisher and label whose place in sacred music study and performance is now surely secure and unshakeable.

BRIAN MORTON Read the full review on Agora Classica

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Choir & Organ, 2012 - ©Rhinegold Publishing