The Haenssler Classic recording company, based in the southern German city of Holzgerlingen, is an anomaly: a small independent firm specializing in sacred music that has produced quality recordings and made a profit. Not content to record only the classics in the genre, Haenssler, established in 1919, has offered a fascinating presentation of what sacred music can signify in our own era. It recently released splendid versions of rare oratorios like the Swiss composer Frank Martin’s Golgotha, Franz Liszt’s Christus, and Franz Schubert’s Lazarus. The firm’s interest in religious music is admirably ecumenical and includes a fascinating recital of Jewish chamber music by the sublime viola player, Tabea Zimmermann.
Haenssler has also sponsored ambitious attempts to regenerate large-scale sacred music by commissioning anthologies by contemporary composers. This approach received some criticism in 1995 when Haenssler’s Requiem of Reconciliation, meant to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the end of World War II, involved fourteen composers in an unsuccessful attempt to combine highly disparate styles. A more recent effort, Passion 2000, in honor of Bach, narrowed the participating composers to four major names, Wolfgang Rihm, Sofia Gubaidulina, Osvaldo Golijov, and Tan Dun, each setting one of the Gospels. The latter recording is scheduled for release this spring.