Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Paulus (St Paul)
Susan Gritton (soprano)
Jean Rigby (mezzo soprano)
Barry Banks (tenor)
Peter Coleman-Wright (bass)
BBC National Chorus of Wales
BBC National Orchestra of Wales/Richard Hickox
Rec 5th May 2000, St David's Hall, Cardiff (live performance)
CHANDOS CHAN9882 [2
Mendelssohn became general musical director of the Lower Rhine Festival at
Düsseldorf in 1833. His activities included performances of the Handel
oratorios, which he had first encountered in London a few years before. His
position also allowed him the opportunity to perform a new oratorio of his
own creation. Although he moved on to a new appointment as conductor of the
Leipzig Gewandhaus in August 1835, Mendelssohn returned to Düsseldorf
to direct the first performance of St Paul at the Lower Rhine Festival
in May the following year.
St Paul made an instant impression and was warmly received; Schumann,
for example, described it as 'a jewel of the present age, a creation of peace
and love', and a Dresden performance was praised by none other than Wagner,
who was hardly Mendelssohn's greatest admirer.
Despite his Jewish ancestry Mendelssohn was converted to Christianity and
acquired a thorough knowledge of the Bible, so that his commitment to the
story of the convert Saul (Paul) may have derived partly from his own experience.
The music is organised, like the Bach Passions, in separate numbers
featuring the sequence of recitative, aria, chorus and chorale.
This excellent performance was recorded at a live performance in St David's
Hall, Cardiff, and the marvellous immediacy of the sound captures the spirit
of the occasion. Hickox conducts a big, bold conception of the work, and
rightly so, since for all the derivations from Bach and Handel this is music
which looks forward, not back. The pick of the soloists is the tenor, Barry
Banks, who makes a particularly fine narrator. The choral singing is very
fine, not only in richness and lustre of tone but in sensitivity, with the
quieter moments beautifully captured.
The nature of the work means that there is often an operatic element in focus,
and the Chandos engineers play their part in making the experience for listener
a dramatic one. This under-rated score is well served by this new recording.
The structure may rely on a succession of rather short numbers, but the effect
is certainly more than the sum of the parts.