Mendelssohn's Magnificat in D was written in 1822
when the composer was 13. Three years previously he had joined
Berlin Singakademie which had been founded by Carl Friedrich
Zelter. It was under Zelter's influence that the young prodigy
studied music by pre-classical composers. So his writing of the Magnificat was
influenced by the settings of the same text by J.S. Bach and
But this was no arcane piece of revivalism; Mendelssohn wrote
for a contemporary orchestra including clarinets and horns, and
without the high trumpet parts found in Bach. But Mendelssohn's
writing was pretty florid - Zelter sent the original setting
of Quia respexit back. There seems to be uncertainty as
to whether Zelter's Singakademie ever sang the Magnificat and
the work was excluded from the first complete edition of the
composer's works assembled in 1847.
The delightful Magnificat calls for the chorus to sing
vocal lines which were conceived along lively baroque lines and
were probably unsuited to the Singakademie's three hundred members
- though they did sing other baroque pieces.
Here it is performed by the 24 voice Yale Schola Cantorum, accompanied
by the Yale Collegium Players. A very good job they make of it
too, under Simon Carrington's lively direction. Mendelssohn's
teenage pieces, with some notable exceptions, still have not
gained full exposure so that it is a pleasure to hear this committed
and vivid performance.
Though there are nods in the direction of Bach, the sound-world
is very much Mendelssohn's own, with some lovely moments such
as the beautiful Quia respexit for soprano soloist (Melenie
Scafide Russell) and chorus. Scafide and baritone David Dong-Geun
Kim have a solo each in the piece. The remainder is set for chorus
and orchestra, with the exception of Deposuit potentes set
for the trio of soprano (Cecilia Leitner), mezzo-soprano (Laura
C. Atkinson) and baritone (Jason P. Steigerwalt).
The Mendelssohn Magnificat is followed by a performance
of the first movement of his 12th String Symphony,
a piece which showcases Mendelssohn's contrapuntal and fugal
abilities. This movement is almost contemporaneous with the Magnificat.
The final Mendelssohn piece on the disc is his Ave Maria of
1830, one of his final pieces of Latin church music and a piece
in which he looks back to the baroque poly-choral tradition as
well as continuing the grand choral sound which he used in such
pieces as Elijah.
If the performers had filled the remainder of the disc with music
by Mendelssohn then I would have had no qualms about recommending
this disc. As it is, they have decided to perform Bach's Magnficat.
The performance is neither a modern, period practice one, nor
a re-creation of the sort of performance which Mendelssohn might
have heard in his lifetime. Instead, they give us a very creditable
modern instrument account, which is crisp, lively and perfectly
creditable. The soloists all come from the Yale Voxted and the
performance showcases six of them (Melanie Scafide Russell, Cecilia
Leitner, Jay Carter, Birger Radde, Michael Sansoni, Jason P Steigerwalt).
You would not buy this disc for the performance of Bach's Magnificat in
D major. In a crowded field, there are many recordings of the
Bach, both period and modern instrument which are finer than
this. That said, the young graduate performers acquit themselves
perfectly creditably. Certainly buy it if you are interested
in early Mendelssohn. His Magnificat is strongly performed
and the Bach is perfectly acceptable as a companion.
see also review by Johan van Veen