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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-47)
Complete Choral Works

Chamber Choir of Europe and Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen/Nicol Matt
Various soloists from the Chamber Choir of Europe
Recordings:
Kloster Bronnbach, Wertheim, Germany (a cappella works) in 2002
Studio der Württembergischen Philharmonie, Reutlingen, Germany (choral works with orchestra) in 2002
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 99997 [10 CDs: 51:25 + 53:44 + 54:28 + 67:27 + 61:13 + 60:19 + 52:27 + 38:05 + 78:18 + 53:00]


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CD1
The Five Psalm Cantatas, for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra, Nos. 1-3:
1) Psalm 42 "Wie der Hirsch schreit" op. 42
2) Psalm 95 "Kommt, lasst uns anbeten" op. 46
3) Psalm 98 "Singet dem Herrn" op 91.
CD2
The Five Psalm Cantatas, for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra, Nos. 4-5:
4) Psalm 114, "Da Israel aus Ägypten zog" op. 51
5) Psalm 115 "Nos nobis Domine" op. 31
The Eight Chorale Cantatas Nos. 1-3:
1) Ach Gott, vom Himmel sieh darein
2) Christe, du lamm Gottes
3) Jesu, meine Freude
CD3
The Eight Chorale Cantatas for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra Nos. 4-8:
4) Haupt voll Blutt und Wunden
5) Verleih uns Freiden
6) Vom Himmel hoch
7) Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten
8) Wir glauben all an einen Gott
Herr Gott, dich loben wir
CD4
1) Hymn / Three sacred songs and fugue Op. 96, for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra
2) Hymne "Hor mein Bitten", for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra
3) Kyrie in D minor, for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra
4) Lauda Sion Op. 73, for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra
5) Tu es Petrus, Op. 111, for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra
CD5
1) Magnificat, for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra (1822)
2) Gloria, for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra (1822)
CD6
1) Hora est, for four 4-part mixed choirs and organ (1828)
2) Te Deum, for 4-part mixed choir, soloists and organ
3) Ave Maria, for 8-part mixed choir and 8 soloists, Op.23
4) Te Deum, for soloists, 2 x 4-parts mixed choirs and organ
CD7
Three Kirchenmusiken op. 23:
1) Aus tiefer Not, für vierstimmigen gemischten Chor, Soli un Orgel
2) Mitten wir im Leben sind, für achtstimmigen gemischten Chor
3) Jesus, meine Zuversicht, für Soli, fünfstimmigen gemischten Chor und Orgel
Three Motets, für Soli, fünfstimmigen gemischten Chor, op.69:
1) Herr, nun lassest du deinen Diener
2) Jauchzet dem Herrn, alle Welt (Psalm 100)
3) Mein Herz erhebet Gott, den Herrn (Magnificat)
CD8
Three Psalms, for double choir, Op. 78:
1) Warum toben die Heiden (Psalm 2)
2) Richte mich Gott (Psalm 43, Erstfassung)
3) Mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen (Psalm 22)
Six Anthems, for 8-part choir 4, Op. 79:
1) Advent: "Lasset uns frohlocken"
2) Weihnachten: "Frohlocket, ihr Völker"
3) Neujahr: "Herr Gott, du bist unsere Zuflucht"
4) Passionszeit: "Herr, gedenke nicht"
5) Karfreitag: "Um unserer Sünden Willen"
6) Himmelfahrt: "Erhaben, o Herr"
The German Liturgy, for soloists and two 4-part choirs:
1) Kyrie in A
2) Gloria "Ehre sei Gott"
3) Sanctus "Heilig, heilig, heilig"
CD9
Choral-Harmonisierungen, für vierstimmigen gemischten Chor
Kyrie in C, für Soli und zwei vierstimmige gemischte Chöre (1823)
Jube Domne, für Soli und zwei vierstimmige gemischte Chöre (1822)
Cantique pour l’Église Wallone, für vierstimmigen gemischten Chor
Zwei englische Psalmen (Tate), für vierstimmigen gemischten Chor:
1) Psalm 5
2) Psalm 31
Sieben Psalmen (Lobwasser), für vierstimmigen gemischten Chor:
1) Psalm 2
2) Psalm 24
3) Psalm 31
4) Psalm 91
5) Psalm 93
6) Psalm 98
7) Psalm 100
Dreizehn Psalmmotetten, für zwei - bis vierstimmigen Chor
CD10
Three Motets for Women's Choir and Organ, Op. 39:
1) Veni Domine, für dreistimmigen Frauenchor und Orgel
2) Laudate pueri, für Soli, drei stimmigen Frauenchor und Orgel
3) Surrexti pastor bonus, für vierstimmige Soli / Frauenchor und Orgel
Hebe deine Agen auf, for 3-part women’s choir
O beata et benedicta, for 3-part women's choir and organ
Vespergesang "Adspice domine / Schaue herab "op. 121 für Soli, Männerchor, Violoncello un Kontrabass
Zwei geistliche Männerchöre, für vier Stimmen, Op. 115:
1) Beati mortui / Selig sind die Toten
2) Periti autem / es strahlen hell die Gerechten
Trauersgesang, op. 116 for 4-part choir (Fassung des Autographs)
Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt, for 8-part choir
Denn er hat seinen Engeln, for 8-part choir
Zum Abendsegen "Herr, sei gnädig" for 4-part choir

We are informed that this ten disc box set marks an important milestone in the collaboration between Brilliant Classics and the Chamber Choir of Europe as this is the premier release of the complete choral works of Felix Mendelssohn. More accurately the set is a generous collection of Mendelssohn’s sacred choral works. It does not include the secular choral works or any of the oratorios St. Paul, Elijah and Christus.

I do not subscribe to the view that if music is high-quality then it will always be in the public gaze. Top quality does not always rise to the top. Often certain types of music from the great composers will need a push. Very 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 rarely get onto disc. This is sterling work making rarely heard music available to a wider audience and at super-budget price too.

It is generally acknowledged that the choral music of Mendelssohn owes a tremendous debt to J.S. Bach. Mendelssohn used the ‘great master’ as a model to enable him to write the type of liturgical music that he wanted to. So impressed was Mendelssohn with Bach’s music 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.

We are informed by Brilliant Classics that, "This set is a treasure trove of choral works in which Mendelssohn expresses his love for choral singing and his incredible skill of counterpoint writing. Mendelssohn, a protestant Jew, wrote many works for liturgical use. As the protestant tradition cannot boast of a great corpus of high quality liturgical works, Mendelssohn’s output forms an invaluable contribution to this genre."

Revered in his lifetime as one of the greatest composers, Mendelssohn has become much less highly regarded principally since the mid-twentieth century. It is only a handful of compositions that keeps Mendelssohn’s name in the spotlight: works such as the Violin Concerto, the Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream, the Italian Symphony and the Octet. The choral works are in fact one of the highlights of his output, albeit they are rarely heard, with only the oratorios St. Paul and Elijah consistently performed by choral societies. It is to be hoped that this Brilliant Classics release will help redress the balance.

Mendelssohn’s choral music is not to everyone’s taste. I have checked back to a review which I remember was terribly disparaging, with the reviewer comparing Mendelssohn's choral music to a ‘limp salad or soggy cereal’. In my opinion Mendelssohn’s choral music provides a great link between J.S. Bach’s late-Baroque and Brahms’s high-Romanticism. Few would disagree with the contention that the music never quite reaches the sacred reverence of Bach or attains the wonderful melody of Brahms. The choral music has a unique appeal for me which I find to be most convincing and expressive: bright and airy in tone with a gentle serenity and a rare beauty.

The first of the longer works is the 42nd Psalm, ‘Wie der Hirsch schreit’ (As the heart beats) for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra, op. 42 (CD1). In seven sections and lasting for twenty minutes the work reaches heights of sublime passion in praise of the glory of God. The psalmist’s words are the primary concern of the composer and these are set to thoroughly fine musical effect. The singing of the well-matched soloists and choir is exuberant and passionate with orchestral playing of the highest-quality; particularly the wonderful brass section. The performance of soprano soloist Isabella Muller-Cant is a highlight for her smooth tone and clear enunciation.

The 95th Psalm ‘Kommt, lasst uns anbeten’ (O, come let us worship) for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra op. 46 (CD1) is in five sections and uses a baroque-like piety. The tenor soloist Daniel Sans is prominent throughout and performs most commendably.

An ambitious work the Lauda Sion, for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra Op.73 (CD4) was commissioned for the Roman Catholic Church of St. Martin in Luttich. It combines Catholic restraint with a degree of baroque festivity. There are solemn and often heavy textures contrasted with occasions where more relaxed moods gain the upper hand.

Mendelssohn was only thirteen when he composed the Magnificat and the Gloria (both on CD5), for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra. The booklet notes have these two works down incorrectly as being for organ only and not orchestra. There is a remarkable mixture of musical influences, strongly influenced by Handel and Bach, with wonderful chorus writing. In its medium weight textures the Magnificat features some marvellous singing for the bass part in the Fecit potentiam and has a most glorious Sincut erat conclusion. The Gloria contains attractive and restrained choral writing with light and sensitive orchestral accompaniment.

The longest work in the set is the Te Deum, for soloists, 2 x 4-parts mixed choirs and organ (CD6) from 1826. Again there is a remarkable mixture of musical influences in the score. The Te Deum is a most sacred work, intensely deep in feeling with the part-writing really bringing out the devotional nature of the score.

Composed in 1847 the Three Motets, for soloists, five-part mixed choir, op.69 (CD7) is an a cappella work and comprises a Nunc Dimittis, a setting of the Psalm 100 and a German Magnificat. The work takes the choir to exalted heights and ends with an extended and movingly reverent Amen. We are informed that the Three Motets, Op. 69 were Mendelssohn’s last completed choral works: sublime musical expression with an intensity of Romantic feeling.

Of the shorter works there are so many gems to be discovered in this set. I have singled out my particular favourites for special praise as follows. In the Kyrie in D minor for mixed choir, soloists and orchestra (CD5) from 1825, the glorious orchestral opening could have easily come from the pen of Beethoven and is a work with choral writing of high quality. Composed in 1828, the Hora est (The hour has come) for four 4-part mixed choirs and organ (CD6) makes full use of the Chamber Choir of Europe and reminded me at times of a Christmas carol or hymn. The final work on this release is the A cappella work Hebe deine Agen auf, for 3-part women’s choir (CD10) which sounds very Brahmsian and is wonderfully sung by the choir.

I have nothing but praise for the Chamber Choir of Europe and the Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen under Nicol Matt who can be well pleased with their memorable performances. The forces respond throughout the works with commendable spirit in interpretations that have enormous concentration, humanity and dignity. There is an abundance of drive and brilliance, subtlety and fine detailing.

I’m almost getting used to the Brilliant Classics quirky annotation; namely the mediocre proof-reading and how they translate some but not all of the German and Latin into English. The release does include full texts but unfortunately none have been translated into English. I must congratulate Brilliant Classics for the essay in the booklet notes by Christian Wildhagen (translated by Stephen Taylor) which is of a high standard and far better than I have been used to of late from this company. Many of the ten CDs are on the short side with an average timing of only of 57 minutes per disc. I have estimated that the ten CD set could have been accommodated on eight or nine discs. The compact box set is really well presented in nicely designed card slip-cases. At super-budget price the set represents marvellous value.

The recorded sound is cool and clear, somewhat on the dry side and occasionally blurring in the Forte passages but really nothing too troublesome.

This is all well recorded and beautifully performed. Full credit to Brilliant Classics for this wonderful and revelatory set of Mendelssohn’s complete sacred choral works. Don’t miss this super bargain!

Michael Cookson

see also review by Terry Barfoot



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