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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Mendelssohn Edition 4 - Incidental Music, Sacred and Secular Choral Music
Ein Sommernachtstraum (A Midsummer Night’s Dream) Overture: Op.21 [11:31], Incidental music: Op.61 [51:31]
Christus: Op.97 [20:13]
Hör mein Bitten (Hear my prayer) [11.12]
Mitten wir im Leben: Op.23 No.3 [7.36]
Ave Maria: Op.23 No.2 [6.18]
Verleih uns Frieden [4.35]
Te Deum in A [8.41]
Psalm 42 Op.42 [25.33]
Psalm 95 Op.46 [19.43]
Psalm 115 Op.31 [19.22]
Psalm 114 Op.51 [13.25]
Psalm 13 Op.96 [13.42]
Psalm 98 Op.91 [8.08]
Lauda Sion Op.73 [27.52]
Die erste Walpurgisnacht Op.60 [35.39]
O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden [13.12]
Kyrie [7.58]
Edith Wiens, Audrey Michael, Christiane Baumann, Joana Silva, Evelyn Brunner (sopranos); Christine Oertel (mezzo), Nathalie Stutzmann, Suzana Teixeira, Naoko Ihara, Brigitte Balleys (altos); Markus Schäfer, Pierre-André Blaser, Alejandro Ramírez, Frieder Lang (tenors); Gilles Cachemaille (baritone), José Fardilha, Antonio Wagner Diniz, Philippe Huttenlocher (basses); Friedhelm Eberle (speaker)
Rundfunkchor Leipzig, Leipzig Gewandhausorchester/Kurt Masur
Gulbenkian Choir and Orchestra, Lisbon/Michel Corboz
rec. 1979-1990, various locations
full work and artist details at end of review
WARNER CLASSICS 2564 692676 [5 CDs: 312:10]

Experience Classicsonline


The gathering together from vinyl for the bicentennial anniversary of Mendelssohn’s birth continues with this fascinating five-disc set of unfamiliar (but for two) works.

The complete recording of the incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a revelatory experience. The listener perceives how the various elements in the highly familiar overture - which I conducted myself only last week - are used again in the ensuing melodramas; Friedhelm Eberle makes a fine speaker in his various guises. How orchestral players in the Berlin theatre back in 1843 must have rued seeing yet another part-rendition of that fast, tricky overture or scherzo appearing. That was just when they thought it was safe to relax in the Nocturne’s restful few minutes; we’d better except for the principal horn part from the description of restful. Masur and his Leipzigers - formerly Mendelssohn’s orchestra - give a fizzing account of the overture. This is followed at various points by the usual five pieces extracted for concert performance. We are then presented with a comparatively steady Scherzo, a lusty mechanicals’ dance, a delightfully shaped Intermezzo, a beautifully fluent Nocturne and a triumphal Wedding March. The less familiar song with chorus and the various brief melodramas will catch the ear, but for the text and translation (English and French) a visit to the label’s website is necessary.

The other substantial work on these discs is The First Walpurgis Night. Mednelssohn wrote it in 1831 while on a visit to Italy, but it was not performed for the first time until 1843 in Leipzig. It is a cantata based on Goethe’s ballad about witches in Northern mythology who supposedly revelled on the summit of the Brocken on the eve of the first of May. Mendelssohn’s wild and infernal Sabbath has little of the flavour of Berlioz’s Symphonie fantastique, which dates from only a year earlier. Despite such tameness - the female Druids are hard to take seriously - it does make a fairly stark contrast to the Mendelssohn of the many Christian psalms and the other sacred works on these discs. Its strengths lie in the choral writing, for Mendelssohn could do little wrong in that department. This was a popular work in Britain in the 19th century Mendelssohn craze, helped no doubt by Novello including it in its vocal score catalogues. Performances then were far more frequent than today. The highlight is the chorus (‘Come with torches’) for Druids, guards and pagans, a less inhibited whirl on the composer’s part, though it does not yet have the power and overwhelming drama of Elijah (1846).

The other familiar work is ‘Hear my Prayer’ (1844), whose final section ‘O for the Wings of a Dove’, is well knwn to those of us of a certain age thanks to the boyish sounds of Ernest Lough after his 1927 recording at the Temple Church in Fleet Street accompanied by George Thalben Ball. Here, and accompanied by orchestra, Audrey Michael sings it beautifully, her vibrato stylishly expressive, and the choral contribution from the Lisbon forces both powerful and sensitive. They participate in a variety of the Psalms and other short works, including a stunning account of the a cappella double chorus ‘In the midst of life’. Double choruses were favoured by Mendelssohn, producing in a vocal context the distinctive textures and various colours an orchestra can achieve. However, in terms of choral writing, it was his encounter with and championing of Bach which not only confirmed his religious faith, but also honed his already formidable contrapuntal skills. That said, one should not forget that other greats before him, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, had worshipped at the same shrine. Canons, fugues, and double-counterpoint abound among the arias and chorales, many of which have that shining instantly identifiable majesty. There is some wonderful descriptive and colourful music in the Psalms including some fast bassoon writing as the Israelites flee Egypt in Psalm 114. Like Brahms after him, Mendelssohn’s operatic music found a place anywhere other than in an opera house.

Christopher Fifield 

Full Track/Performer Details
A Midsummer Night's Dream - incidental music, Op. 61
Edith Wiens (soprano), Christiane Oertel (mezzo), Friedhelm Eberle (speaker)
Rundfunkchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester/Kurt Masur

Le Songe d’une nuit d’été
Edith Wiens (soprano), Christiane Oertel (mezzo), Friedhelm Eberle (speaker)
Rundfunkchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester/Kurt Masur

Ein Sommernachtstraum
Edith Wiens (soprano), Christiane Oertel (mezzo), Friedhelm Eberle (speaker)
Rundfunkchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester/Kurt Masur

Christus
Audrey Michael (soprano), Nathalie Stutzmann, Suzana Teixeira (altos), Markus Schäfer (tenor), José Fardilha, Antonio Wagner Diniz (basses)

Mitten wir im Leben sind Op. 23 No. 3
Audrey Michael (soprano), Nathalie Stutzmann, Suzana Teixeira (altos), Markus Schäfer (tenor), José Fardilha, Antonio Wagner Diniz (basses)

Hear My Prayer
Audrey Michael (soprano), Nathalie Stutzmann, Suzana Teixeira (altos), Markus Schäfer (tenor), José Fardilha, Antonio Wagner Diniz (basses)

Ave Maria, Op. 23 No. 2
Audrey Michael (soprano), Nathalie Stutzmann, Suzana Teixeira (altos), Markus Schäfer (tenor), José Fardilha, Antonio Wagner Diniz (basses)

Verleih uns Frieden
Audrey Michael (soprano), Nathalie Stutzmann, Suzana Teixeira (altos), Markus Schäfer (tenor), José Fardilha, Antonio Wagner Diniz (basses)

Te Deum
Audrey Michael (soprano), Nathalie Stutzmann, Suzana Teixeira (altos), Markus Schäfer (tenor), José Fardilha, Antonio Wagner Diniz (basses)

Psalm 42, Op. 42: Wie der Hirsch schreit
Christiane Baumann, Joana Silva, Evelyn Brunner (sopranos), Nathalie Stutzmann, Naoko Ihara (altos), Pierre-André Blaser, Alejandro Ramírez (tenors), Philippe Huttenlocher (bass)

Psalm 95, Op. 46: Kommt laßt uns anbeten
Christiane Baumann, Joana Silva, Evelyn Brunner (sopranos), Nathalie Stutzmann, Naoko Ihara (altos), Pierre-André Blaser, Alejandro Ramírez (tenors), Philippe Huttenlocher (bass)

Psalm 115, Op. 31: Heute, so ihr seine Stimme höret
Christiane Baumann, Joana Silva, Evelyn Brunner (sopranos), Nathalie Stutzmann, Naoko Ihara (altos), Pierre-André Blaser, Alejandro Ramírez (tenors), Philippe Huttenlocher (bass)

Psalm 114, Op. 51: Da Israel aus Ägypten zog
Christiane Baumann, Joana Silva, Evelyn Brunner (sopranos), Nathalie Stutzmann, Naoko Ihara (altos), Pierre-André Blaser, Alejandro Ramírez (tenors), Philippe Huttenlocher (bass)

Lass, o Herr mich Hilfe finden, Op. 96 No. 1
Christiane Baumann, Joana Silva, Evelyn Brunner (sopranos), Nathalie Stutzmann, Naoko Ihara (altos), Pierre-André Blaser, Alejandro Ramírez (tenors), Philippe Huttenlocher (bass)

Psalm 98, Op. 91: Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied
Christiane Baumann, Joana Silva, Evelyn Brunner (sopranos), Nathalie Stutzmann, Naoko Ihara (altos), Pierre-André Blaser, Alejandro Ramírez (tenors), Philippe Huttenlocher (bass)

Die erste Walpurgisnacht, Op. 60
Brigitte Balleys (alto), Frieder Lang (tenor), Gilles Cachemaille (baritone)
Gulbenkian Choir and Orchestra, Lisbon/Michel Corboz

O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden
Brigitte Balleys (alto), Frieder Lang (tenor), Gilles Cachemaille (baritone)
Gulbenkian Choir and Orchestra, Lisbon/Michel Corboz

Kyrie in D minor
Ensemble Vocal et Instrumental de Lausanne, Michel Corboz 

 


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