Specialising in spiritual
choral music from all periods the Carus
label continue their impressive series
of Mendelssohn sacred choral works with
the oratorio Paulus (St. Paul);
their eleventh volume under the baton
of Frieder Bernius.
The oratorios Paulus
and Elijah are two mainstays
of the genre that secured Mendelssohnís
fame in the restorationist Germany and
Victorian Britain, where they were frequently
performed at numerous music festivals
and sometimes conducted by the composer.
In spite of the forceful and enduring
backlash against things Germanic and
Victorian that prevailed in Britain
following the outbreak of the Great
War, Paulus and Elijah
have remained perennially popular with
the British provincial choral societies.
On the other hand, owing mainly to changes
in music fashion, Mendelssohnís impressive
output of psalm settings, motets, cantatas,
Walpurgisnacht and the Lobgesang
- works that figured so prominently
in the European music life of the 1830s
and 1840s - are either largely forgotten
or rarely performed.
According to biographer
Michael P. Steinberg, "Paulus
was written in the aftermath of Abraham
Mendelssohnís death and as a tribute
to his memory." Musicologist
Edward Dannreuther opined that Paulus
was written probably for festival concert
performance purposes with a devotional
spirit rather than purely for ecclesiastical
reasons. Mendelssohnís sacred choral
music contains a special and unique
appeal. At its very best it is convincing
and expressive, bright and airy in tone
with a gentle serenity and a rare beauty.
the oratorio Paulus for solo
voices, chorus and orchestra between
1834 and 1836. Assisted by Pastor Julius
Schubring, he prepared the text from
the Bible centring the oratorio on the
book of St. Paul and focusing on the
martyrdom of St. Stephen and the conversion
of Saul of Tarsus.
Paulus was a
tremendous success at its première
at the Lower Rhine festival in Düsseldorf,
Germany in 1836 and gave the twenty-seven
year old Mendelssohn his international
breakthrough. In the eyes of musicologist
Francis Toye, for Mendelssohn the triumph
of Paulus, "eventually
established him, in England in particular,
as the legitimate successor to Handel."
Many performances soon followed
throughout Europe, Russian and also
in the USA. Probably Mendelssohnís most
admired score in his lifetime, composer
Robert Schumann remarked upon the, "indelible
colour of instrumentation"
and the, "masterful playing
with all the forms of the art of composition"
describing it as a, "jewel of
the present." However Paulus
has not achieved the same enduring level
of greatness as that of his later oratorio
Elijah; a more mature
score that is performed more often with
a far larger number of available recordings.
Paulus is cast in two large sections.
According to music writer David Ewen
the first section is, "essentially
dramatic" and the second section,
"lyrical and contemplative".
Section one of Paulus
contains numerous highlights and
is the more successful of the two parts.
I was struck by how much the robust
and elaborate opening chorus Herr,
der du bist der Gott (Lord, Thou
alone art God) (track 2,
CD1) reminded me of Handelís coronation
anthem, Zadok the Priest (HWV
258). The splendid declamation of the
soprano Maria Cristina Kiehr in the
aria Jerusalem, die du tötest
die Propheten (Jerusalem! They
that killest the Prophets) (track
7, CD1). The shock and abhorrence from
Werner Güra in the tenor aria,
Und sie steinigten ihn (And
they stoned him) (track 9, CD1)
is memorable. A true high spot is the
sequence of soothing strains from the
chorus in Siehe! Wir preisen selig,
die erduldet haben (Happy and
blest are they who have endured!)
(track 11, CD1). Also notable is the
remorse and sorrow from Michael Volle
in the bass Ďrageí aria Vertilge
sie, Herr Zebaoth (Confound them
all, Lord Sabbath) (track 12, CD1).
Volleís outburst of anger and loathing
in Gott, sei mir gnädig nach
deiner Güte (O God, have
mercy on me) (track 18, CD1) must
also be mentioned. Here one cannot fail
to be impressed by the excellent woodwind
accompaniment. Another highlight is
the bass aria Ich danke dir, Herr,
mein Gott! (I praise thee, O
Lord, my God!) where Saulís prayer
is answered by the mixed chorus.
Section two of Paulus
is generally considered to be of reduced
dramatic quality and consequently is
of rather less interest than the opening
part. I should just mention the reverential
and moving duets for tenor and bass
So sind wir nun Botschafter an Christi
Statt (Now we are Ambassadors
in the name of Christ) (track 3,
CD2) and Denn also hat der Herr geboten
(For so hath the Lord himself
commanded) (track 9, CD2). Then
thereís the dramatic and powerful, extended
bass aria from Michael Volle in Ihr
Männer, was macht ihr da? (O
wherefore do ye these things) (track
14, CD2). Werner Güra in the tenor
cavatina, Sei getreu bis in
den Tod (Be thou faithful unto
death) (track 18, CD2) is impressive.
Here I was struck by the superb playing
by the soloist in the obbligato cello
part. The strength and intensity of
the two mighty and compelling final
choruses is noteworthy: Sehet, welch
eine Liebe uns der Vater erzeiget (See
what love hath the Father bestowed on
us) (track 21, CD2) and Nicht
aber ihm allein, sondern allen (Not
only unto him) (track 23, CD2).
Maria Cristina Kiehr, who sings both
the soprano and alto parts, rises to
the tough assignment and proves impressive.
Her captivating performance was appropriately
reverential, blended with impressive
clarity of enunciation and creamy timbre.
Güra provides an enthusiastic contribution
with his bright and medium weight tones,
of a certain Italianate quality. These
contrast splendidly with Volleís memorably
rich and characterful bass.
is impressive in every way. The playing
of Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
is never overwhelming but always high
on sensitivity; containing an especially
moving directness of expression. The
sound quality on this SACD, which I
played on my standard players, is first
class and especially well balanced.
I enjoyed the exemplary essay in the
booklet from musicologist R. Larry Todd,
however, there are several errors in
the accompanying liner notes.
With regard to alternative
recordings of Paulus I have considerable
affection for the 1995 Montreux version
under the direction of Philippe Herreweghe.
The quartet of soloists: Melanie Diener
(soprano); Annette Markert (mezzo);
James Taylor (tenor) and Matthias Görne
(baritone) are joined by the Collegium
Vocale Gent; La Chapelle Royale and
the Orchestre des Champs-Élysées
on Harmonia Mundi HMC901584.85.
version of Paulus from my collection
that I can
recommend is the 1994 DvořŠk Hall,
Prague performance from the baton of
conductor Helmuth Rilling. The talented
quartet of soloists is Juliane Banse
(soprano); Ingeborg Danz (alto); Michael
Schade (tenor); Andreas Schmidt (bass)
with the Gšchinger Kantorei Stuttgart;
Prager Kammerchor and the Czech Philharmonic
Orchestra on Brilliant
Classics 99953 c/w Elijah,
It is hard to fault
this Carus release of Mendelssohnís
Paulus which is a must for any
collection of sacred music. I look forward
to Frieder Berniusís forthcoming recording
of Elijah, Op. 70, also on Carus.