Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Christus (1846-7) [18:31]
Verleih uns frieden gnädiglich (1831) [4:13]
O haupt voll blut und wunden (1830) [11:54]
Von himmel hoch (1830) [13:37]
Sandrine Piau (soprano); Robert Getchell (tenor); Markus Butter (baritone); Laurent Staars (bass); Accentus; Ensemble Orchestral de Paris/Laurence Equilbey
rec. June 2011, Notre-Dame du Liban Church, Paris
German text and English and French translations included
NAÏVE V5265 [48:15]
It is unsurprising that after the great success of “St Paul” and “Elijah” Mendelssohn should have wanted to write a third oratorio. This was to have been entitled “Earth, Hell and Heaven”, dealing with events from Christ’s coming to his descent into hell and his resurrection. It was never completed however, and what remains, renamed “Christus” comprises two short sections, from the intended first part of the work dealing with the epiphany and the trial of Christ respectively. The first is often sung to organ accompaniment as an anthem, and works well in that guise. It works even better here with orchestral accompaniment which makes Mendelssohn’s very self-conscious debt to Bach even more obvious, especially in the Passiontide section. Whilst the music cannot be said to make a great effect out of its intended context these are fascinating examples of Mendelssohn’s dramatic art, and as performed here with superb singing and playing they are utterly convincing.
The other three items also show his debt to Bach and to his cantatas in particular. “Verleih uns frieden gnädiglich” is a single choral movement with gravely flowing accompaniment including divided cellos. This is Mendelssohn at his best and it is extraordinary that it is so seldom heard. Again the excellent performance reveals it to its best advantage.
The other two multi-movement works more obviously resemble the cantatas of Bach, and are well contrasted with each other, the first for Easter and the second for Christmas. Although it is not mentioned in Richard Jones’ otherwise admirable notes, these cantatas appear to differ from those of Bach in being intended for uninterrupted concert performance. The performances here are again excellent, especially in respect of the very committed singing of both soloists and chorus.
This is a disc that deserves a place in the collection of any admirer of the music of Mendelssohn, or indeed of Bach, who wants to explore further the intimate relationship between their music. All of the music on the disc is worth repeated hearing and is presented in good and well recorded performances. The only possible drawback is the very short measure but for once I would recommend ignoring that and concentrating on the quality of what is on offer.
John Sheppard
Ignore the very short measure and concentrate on the quality of what is on offer.