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Brilliant Classics

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-47)
Choral Works

Kyrie in D minor für gemischten Chor, Soli und Orchester (1825)
Der 42 Psalm, ‘Wie der Hirsch schreit’ (As the hart panteth) op. 42
Hora est (The hour has come) für vier vierstimmige gemischte Chöre und Orgel (1828)
Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener für vierstimmigen gemischten Chor, aus: Drei Motetten op. 69 (Three motets)
Richte mich Gott (Judge me, O God) (Psalm 43, Erstfassung)
Karfreitag ‘Um unserer Sünden Willen’ Aus: Sechs Sprüche zum Kirchenjahr op. 79 für achtstimmigen gemischten Chor. (Six anthems for double chorus) (1843-46)
Kyrie in A, aus: Die Deutsche Liturgie für zwei vierstimmige gemischte Chöre (German liturgy) (1846)
Hebe deine Augen auf (aus Elias) für dreistimmigen Frauenchor
Beati mortui/Selig sind die Toten, aus: Zwei geistliche Männerchöre op. 115 für vier Stimmen, Two sacred choruses (c.1833)
Trauergesang (Funeral song) op. 116 für vierstimmigen gemischten Chor (Fassung des Autographs) (1845)
Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt (Make a joyful noise unto the Lord) für achtstimmigen gemischten Chor, Psalm 100
Denn er hat seinen Engeln (For he shall give his angels, Elijah) für achtstimmigen gemischten Chor, Motet for two choirs, Psalm 91
Zum Abendsegen ‘Herr, sei gnädig’ für vierstimmigen gemischten Chor
Chamber Choir of Europe
Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen/Nicol Matt
Jens Wollenschläger (Organ)
Soloists: Psalm 42:
Isabella Muller-Cant (soprano)
Daniel Sans (Tenor I)
Gerhard Nennemann (Tenor II)
Manfred Bittner (Bass I)
Christof Fischesser (Bass II)
Recording: 2002:
Kloster Bronnbach, Wertheim, Germany (a cappella works)
Studio der Württembergischen Philharmonie, Reutlingen, Germany (choral works with orchestra)
SUPER AUDIO CD. This SACD can also be player on CD players. DDD

Revered in his lifetime as one of the greatest composers Mendelssohn’s star has been on the wane since the mid-twentieth century. Only a handful of compositions keep his name in the spotlight: the Violin Concerto, the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Italian Symphony and the Octet. His choral works contain some of the highlights of his output and are rarely heard. Only the oratorios: St. Paul and Elijah are performed by choral societies. It is recordings such as this Brilliant Classics release that will help to redress the balance and assist in Mendelssohn’s rehabilitation.

The choral music of Mendelssohn owes a tremendous debt to J.S. Bach. Mendelssohn’s choral music utilised sacred texts and took Bach as a model. So impressed was Mendelssohn with Bach that he arranged and conducted a revival of the ‘Great’ St. Matthew Passion at a time when Bach’s music was very much out of favour.

This music is not to everyone’s taste. I have recently seen a disparaging review comparing Mendelssohn's choral music to a limp salad or soggy cereal. In my opinion Mendelssohn’s choral music is a wonderful link between the late-baroque of J.S. Bach and the high-romanticism of Brahms without reaching the sacred reverence of Bach or achieving the melody of Brahms; yet the music has a special and unique appeal. These works are generally convincing and expressive, bright and airy in tone with a gentle serenity and a rare beauty. On this disc we are offered a good cross-section extracted from the complete choral works available in a compact ten CD box on Brilliant Classics 99997.

I do not subscribe to the view that if music is high-quality then it will always be in the public domain. Quality does not always rise to the top. Often certain genres of music, even from great composers, will need a major push. So often a major company will re-record yet another version of a famous symphony rather than look further into a great composer’s repertoire. Thankfully record companies such as Brilliant Classics are recording works from major composers that seldom get onto disc. They are doing sterling work making this rarely heard music available to a wider audience and at super-budget price too.

The first work on this release in the Kyrie in D minor for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra from 1825. The glorious orchestral opening, so splendidly played, could easily have come from the pen of Beethoven. It is a work with choral writing of high quality.

The most substantial piece is the 42nd Psalm, ‘Wie der Hirsch schreit’ (As the hart panteth) for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra, op. 42. In seven sections, this lasts for twenty minutes and reaches heights of sublime passion in glory to God. The singing of the well-matched soloists and choir is exuberant and passionate with orchestral playing of the highest-quality particularly from the wonderful brass section. The performance of soprano soloist Isabella Muller-Cant is a highlight for her smooth tone and clear enunciation.

Hora est (The hour has come) for four 4-part mixed choirs and organ from 1828 makes full use of the choir and reminded me at times of a Christmas carol or hymn. The Three Motets for soloists, five-part mixed choir, op.69 is an a cappella work that takes the choir to breathtaking heights and concludes with an extended and movingly reverent Amen. Also notable is the very brief Hebe deine Agen (aus Elias), for 3-part women’s choir. This is another a cappella work, very Brahmsian in style, and wonderfully sung.

Unfortunately the annotation has plenty of mistakes with particularly poor translations and the texts do not have English translations. The recording is cool and clear, somewhat on the dry side and at times in the forte passages blurs slightly; nothing too troublesome. Overall the Chamber Choir of Europe sing beautifully with considerable control in passionately reverent performances that are never overstated or underdone. The Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen provide very fine orchestral accompaniment under the direction of impressive conductor Nichol Matt.

A great introduction to the choral works of Mendelssohn and wonderfully performed too.

Michael Cookson

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