Ferdinand HILLER (1811-1885)
Die Zerstörung Jerusalems (The Destruction of Jerusalem) Op 24 [105:53]
Zedekia - Patrick Grahl (tenor); Chamital - Gudrun Sidonie Otto (soprano); Jeremias - Daniel Ochoa (baritone); Achicam - Tobias Hunger (tenor); Hanna - Annette Markert (alto); An Israelite Maiden - Isabel Meyer-Kalis (soprano); A Herald - Manuel Helmeke (bass); A Fugitive - Reinaldo Dopp (tenor)
Die Gewandhauschor, Leipzig; Vocalconsort Leipzig
Camerata Lipsiensis/Gregor Meyer
rec. Leipzig Gewandhaus, November 2011
German text included
QUERSTAND VKJK1202 [52:23 + 53:30]
In his film Zelig Woody Allen depicts a man always on the fringe of great people and events. This beautifully crafted bogus film shows him alongside most of the major figures of the early twentieth century. He is a man who is always there and always fits in but takes no real part in those events. I hope that I am not too irreverent in suggesting that Hiller seems to have had a similar position in musical circles in the nineteenth century. He knew Mendelssohn, studied with Hummel, became conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, had music dedicated to him by Chopin and Schumann (the Piano Concerto, no less), was a friend or at least colleague of Cherubini, Rossini, Liszt, Berlioz and Wagner, and the teacher of Bruch. Clearly he was at the centre of musical events, but it is hard to see him as in any way a significant part of the creative scene. On the evidence of this oratorio, the only music of his that I have encountered so far, his own music is well crafted but lacks any strongly individual character.
The Destruction of Jerusalem is based on the Book of Jeremiah and has a libretto by Salomon Steinheim taken largely from the Old Testament. There is no formal narration as such. In the first part Jeremiah attempts to persuade the Israelites to amend their ways but is condemned as a traitor by Chamital, the mother of King Zedikia. In the second part Jerusalem is conquered by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, and the work ends with Jeremiah’s lament and prophecy of a new Zion. However despite the inherent drama of the story and the undoubted power of some of the music, especially the choral sections, there is a distinct lack of dramatic interest or musical individuality. The oratorio was first performed in Leipzig in 1840 at Mendelssohn’s invitation. For most of its length it does indeed sound like an inferior imitation of Mendelssohn’s two oratorios; a precursor to those many later works also influenced by them published by Novello and written for the English festivals. Indeed I suspect that many of the latter have more musical life than this somewhat stolid piece. Not that all of it is uninteresting - Jeremiah’s lament in particular has vivid feeling and a few of the choruses have real impact, but I found it extremely hard to have more than a generalised respect for the work as a whole.
The performance, appropriately by Leipzig forces, does all that can be done, with especially characterful contributions from the orchestra and a well chosen and more than competent group of young soloists. The recording is clear and well balanced. Only the original German text is provided but an English translation can be found on the IMSP Petrucci Music Library website as a preface to the vocal score. The notes are mainly about the libretto and give little information about the fascinating life of the composer.
I am sorry not to be more enthusiastic about these discs. They do have historical relevance in showing the context of German oratorio in the nineteenth century, and anyone interested in that subject should certainly hear them, but there is little here that compels a second hearing.
Historical interest but little here to compel a second hearing.