By one of those strange chances of CD publishing, the
Choir of Trinity College Cambridge, under Richard Marlow
and St. Johnís College, Cambridge, under David Hill, both
have discs of Mendelssohnís sacred choral music in the
catalogue. Though both discs were released recently, this
one from Trinity College was actually recorded in 2000.
The Choir of Trinity College is mixed; it uses female
sopranos and altos. This gives the upper lines a warm,
flexible sound and combined with Marlowís approach to Mendelssohn
is rather Romantic. The choir respond well to his direction
and give some fine, shapely performances.
Though Mendelssohn was a devout Lutheran Protestant
- albeit one with Jewish forebears -† he was flexible when
it came to writing sacred music. This disc includes some
of his best and best known pieces and they range from settings
of Latin texts, through music written for the Lutheran
church and even canticle settings written specifically
for Anglican Evensong.
Trinity open their disc with the Sechs Spruche,
a cycle of six pieces which cover the entire churchís year,
each chorus is associated with a particular festival. This
is Mendelssohn at his most mature, writing fluid polyphonic
lines. Trinity shape this music beautifully.
Hear my prayer is one of Mendelssohnís most popular sacred pieces.
Mendelssohn composed it at the behest of the English translator
of many of his works, but the final work was dedicated
to the musical director of the Berlin Royal Opera. Though
traditionally associated with a boy treble, Rachel Bennett
sings the solo part here and she certainly gives the boys
a run for their money. Whilst not quite as thrilling a
Quintin Beer on the St. Johnís disc, Bennett wins over
Beer because of her beautiful phrasing and intelligent
Beati Mortui, written for male voice chorus, is closer to the chorlied than
to sacred choral music. It is an early work that was not
published until after Mendelssohnís death. Smoothly homophonic,
it receives a fine performance here.
Ave Maria is another of Mendelssohnís best known pieces. His Op. 23 choruses were
written in direct response to his first visit to the Vatican
City. It is written for soloists, chorus and organ but
the bulk of the solo work falls to Trinityís mellifluous
tenor soloist. †Laudate pueri is similarly
early; written for womenís voices, it is one of the most attractive
of Mendelssohnís Latin pieces and receives a fresh performance
from the women of Trinity.
The Deutsche Liturgie is a late work; one that
Mendelssohn left incomplete at his death. These lovely
pieces were intended for use within the Lutheran church.
The Three Psalms Op. 78 are amongst Mendelssohnís
mature works in the genre and rank as one of his masterpieces.
In them he left behind his dependence on baroque models
and produced some of his most fluid, romantic music utilising
contrasting blocks of vocal colour and varying the tonal
weight from full eight-part choir to soloists. Trinity
give strong performances of these pieces and I could recommend
this disc for the performance of these works alone.
Mendelssohnís last completed choral works were the Three
Choruses Op. 69, which comprise a Magnificat, Nunc Dimittis
and setting of the 100th Psalm, all intended
for use within the Church of England. Trinity complete
their disc with a performance of the Magnificat notable
for the richness of it vocal textures.
Mendelssohnís sacred choral music tends to get overshadowed
by that of Brahms and by Mendelssohnís own works in other
genres. This highly recommendable disc brings his sacred
music to the fore in fine, flexible performances from Richard
Marlow and choir.
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Seen & Heard
Editor in Chief