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Sacred Motets by Mendelssohn:and Brahms

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Heilig [1.54]
Zwei geistliche Chore Op.115 (1833) [3.51]
Mitten wir in Leben sind Op.23 No.3 (1830)[7.55]
Aus tiefer Noth Op.23 No.1 (1830) [15.32]
Three Motets Op.39 (1830) [19.20]
Sechs Sprüche Op.79(1846) [11.29]

Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)
Es ist das Heil Op.29 No.1 (1864) [5.15]
O Heiland reiss die Himmel auf Op.74 No.2 (1863-64) [5.26]
Ach, arme Welt Op.110 No.2 (1889) [2.25]
James Jordan (organ)
Gloriae Dei Cantores/Elizabeth Patterson
rec Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts, USA in 1996

Apart from some niggling ragged starts here and there and some not quite confidently taken solo phrases, it would be churlish to criticise the ensemble and commitment of this splendid group, two of whose discs I have reviewed elsewhere on this website, including a splendid Rheinberger collection (CD 108). Both of the composers featured here take a retrospective view with their unequivocal admiration for Bach and his predecessors, the Renaissance masters, the Venetian School, Gabrieli, Schütz and the like. Steeped in counterpoint with its intricacies of weaving and intertwined lines for single and double choruses, Mendelssohn excels in all the challenges which he not only meets head-on but proceeds to reduce to simple solutions. In doing so he never sacrifices beauty to the demands of academicism, always sensitive to the texts and his Lutheran religion. His writing also owes much to the burgeoning tradition of the German male-voice choir: usually an offshoot of the country’s industrial revolution which organised such choirs among factory workers in an effort to sustain extra-mural social intercourse among the employees. Brahms once observed with a touch of self-deprecating humour that he was ‘practising Mendelssohn’s G minor piano concerto so that one day I may really be quite lovable’. There was, however, a serious vein of admiration coursing through his body, and he more than rises to the countrapuntal challenges he sets himself in the three pieces featured here.

Without doubt, however, the best music is Mendelssohn’s three motets for female chorus accompanied by organ, which were dedicated to the nuns of Trinità de’ Monti in Rome. The music is glorious, and the ladies of Gloriae Dei Cantores ably supported by the organist James Jordan sing it divinely. It all comes as somewhat of a welcome relief from the 45 minutes of a cappella music which precedes it, superb though much of that is. Generally the trio and quartet of soloists have an excellent blend, while the concluding Alleluia for all the ladies and the organ in plena voce has a brightly vibrant timbre and exciting dynamic. For followers of this accomplished vocal group of forty singers, I can recommend this disc as a valuable addition to their ever-growing and evergreen collection.

Christopher Fifield

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