This CD contains three loosely connected works.
First, Mendelssohn's version of one of Handel's most striking - not to say spectacular - settings of the Te Deum: that composed during the Austrian War of Succession and first performed in 1743. Because it reflected the victory of the allies (including England: at Dettingen am Main), the Dettinger Te Deum quickly became established as a high-powered ceremonial piece; and later as a staple of the English choral tradition. Mendelssohn's version added parts for flute, clarinet and horn; it was first performed almost a century later, in 1831.
In fact, Mendelssohn took up this work not on one of his journeys
to Britain, but while in Berlin. The thicker texture applied
by the later composer perhaps distils some of the impact that
we're used to in this work. Some of its allusion to glory and
splendour are maybe lost. But the level of playing and singing
merit close attention nevertheless: it never descends to the
pedestrian. McGegan, Wiliam Berger and the Festspiel Orchester
of Göttingen with the NDR Chor make out a convincing case for
Haydn, on the other hand, was commissioned by Solomon in London in the early 1790s to set part of an English text, 'To My Candle' by John Walcot (1738-1819), as The Storm. Typical of the contemporary interest in the subliminal aspects of nature, this piece is what might be called a tone poem now. Haydn described it as a 'Madrigal': it does have choral counterpoint. The Storm depicts the violence of a nocturnal tempest with obvious parallels in human emotions. There is only one other recording of The Storm in the catalogue, with the Haydn Society Chorus and Orchestra of the Golden Age under Denis McCaldin on Meridian (84393). Again, McGegan's is an unaffected, somewhat detached, yet not over-plain account utterly consistent with the idiom in which Haydn was working.
Lastly, this CD contains a homage to Haydn by his near contemporary, Cherubini. The Chant sur la mort de Joseph Haydn was written in 1805 in response to a false report that Haydn had died(!). Set aside, it soon became necessary to perform it - in 1810, a few months after the elder composer's death. A lugubrious work with low strings, horns, it's also rhetorical and also uses orchestral colour to achieve much of its impact. At the same time Cherubini's vocal part writing looks back to some of the key principles of Renaissance polyphony, which he was studying at the time he wrote Chant sur la mort de Joseph Haydn. Again, there is only one other recording of this work - by the Cappella Coloniensis and soloists with Gabriele Ferro on Phoenix Edition (175).
Like those of the other works on this welcome CD, McGegan's
account of the Cherubini is warm, clean and persuasive. The
instrumental introduction [tr.15], for example, is particularly
successful … dour, rich and pointed, it really conveys how
musicians must have felt on hearing of Haydn's death. Neither
obsequious nor dragging, it presents a trenchant set of musical
ideas which are at once a tribute to Haydn in their sparse
use of orchestral colour; and at the same time an original
and sensitive miniature cantata in its own right.
As with these forces' performance of The Storm, the drama works by being understated. There is nothing rhetorical. Yet the crescendi and huge contrasts in dynamics are used to good effect. The soloists' delivery might strike some as a little mannered for the beginning of the C19th. But they make up for this in clarity and restraint.