Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Sechs Sprüche Op.79 [10:06]
“How lovely are the messengers” (St Paul) Op.36 [3:24]
Hear my prayer [11:14]
Veni Domine Op.39 No.1 [4:05]
Allegro, Chorale and Fugue in D [8:20]
Magnificat Op.69 No.3 [9:46]
Nunc dimittis Op.69 No.1 [4:49]
Surrexit pastor bonus Op.39 No.3 [8:59]
Ave Maria Op.23 No.2 [6:29]
Laudate pueri Dominum Op.39 No.2 [5:53]
Richte mich, Gott Op.78 No.2 [4:04]
St Albans Abbey Girls Choir; Lay Clerks of St Albans Cathedral Choir/Tom Winpenny (organ); Peter Holder (organ)
rec. St Albans Abbey, Hertfordshire, 16, 19-21 July 2011
Texts and English translations included
NAXOS 8.572836 [77:08]
Sometimes too great a choice can be a bad thing. When composers are as productive as, say, Haydn, Bach or Mozart a listener attracted by the handful of well-known works may well find themselves confused by the array of works to which they could go next. Those with a passion for the music of, say, Duruflé will not have this problem, but admirers of Mendelssohn may well do. If you know Elijah, have just heard St Paul, where should you go next in exploring his choral music on disc? Here is a very good answer to that, offering a range of his shorter religious choral music in generally excellent performances that are well recorded and well presented.
The best known item here - Hear my prayer - is given a very committed performance that can stand comparison with almost any. Here and throughout the disc a listener unaware of the performers would be likely simply to assume that this is a traditional cathedral choir of boys and men. In fact it consists of the Abbey’s Girls Choir together with the (male) lay clerks. I am unclear as to whether this means that the alto line is sung by members of both groups, but that line is certainly less inclined to inaudibility than can be the case with traditional choirs. Even the soloist in this item - Laura Hicks, a former member of the Girls Choir, sounds for the most part uncannily boyish in her tone although a more obviously female voice may be closer to what the composer expected.
The other vocal soloist is the tenor Philip Salmon who sings the unaccompanied start of the Ave Maria with formidable strength but also a noticeable but not unattractive wobble. The other vocal items are choral including several items for female voices only. All tend to be brief with the exception of the Magnificat and Nunc dimittis written for the Anglican liturgy near the end of the composer’s life. Whilst this setting is not amongst Mendelssohn’s best works it is surprising that it turns up so rarely in cathedral service lists. Perhaps it is sung more frequently at St Albans, and if they sing it as well as they do here attendance at Evensong should be an enlivening experience. Throughout this disc there is a sense of real enthusiasm and musicianship which makes listening to it in part or even as a whole a very great pleasure.
There is one item for solo organ, played by Tom Winpenny; Peter Holder accompanies elsewhere where necessary. The Allegro, Chorale and Fugue is a fine piece not published in the composer’s lifetime and rarely played in concerts. This clear and energetic performance brings out its best qualities and is one of the highlights of the disc. Tom Winpenny also provides good booklet notes. There is a full list of the members of the choirs together with full texts and translations. All in all this is a refreshing, enjoyable and well filled disc which can be commended to anyone who wants to explore the composer’s choral music further.  

John Sheppard
A refreshing, enjoyable and well filled disc.