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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Paulus (St. Paul), Oratorio for SATB soloists, SATB choir, orchestra and organ, Op. 36 (1834-36) [123:49]
Christus, Oratorio (left incomplete) for soloists, choir and orchestra, Op. 97 (1847) [20:18]
Elijah, Oratorio for SATB soloists, SATB choir, orchestra and organ, Op. 70 (1844-46) [128:40]
Kammerchor Stuttgart
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
Klassische Philharmonie Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius
rec. 1987-2007, full details at end of review.
CARUS 83.021 [4 CDs: 70:02 + 74:16 + 65:23 + 63:22]

Mendelssohn’s oratorios St Paul and Elijah have long been popular choral works on record, and they have been well served in recent decades with excellent versions available from a wide variety of sources. I have a particular affection for the Welsh singing on Richard Hickox’s live Cardiff Paulus on Chandos CHAN9882 (or more recently 10516(2)), and even that venerable 1968 Philips recording of Elias conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch still has plenty to offer.
These Carus recordings under Frieder Bernius have been around for a while now but are still leading contenders in the field. Their general effect is leaner and more ‘authentic’ sounding than some alternatives, with restricted vibrato in the strings and a generally light all-round touch, adding welcome clarity and throwing out any suspicions of sentimental wallowing.
Michael Cookson has reviewed the initial release of this Mendelssohn Paulus very thoroughly here, and a review of all 12 volumes of the Frieder Bernius complete Mendelssohn Sacred Choral Music, also including these works, can be found here. You will no doubt notice that these earlier releases are SACD multi-channel discs, whereas this 4 CD box is standard CD format. It follows on from CARUS 83.020 which is a 10 CD box of the Geistlisches Chorwerk, so you can now save plenty of cash with either of these if the SACD aspect of the recordings isn’t of interest.
Clean, elegant and energetic orchestral sound with a strong core of excellent brass tone is assured, and the Kammerchor Stuttgart is also an excellent crowd, representing Das Volk in Paulus with tremendous gusto. Soloists are also universally good. (soprano) Maria Cristina Kiehr takes her roles in this oratorio movingly and with eloquent expressiveness, and the crucial (tenor) part is held strongly by Werner Güra. Paulus himself in the voice of Michael Volle strikes just about the right balance between detailed articulation and dramatic characterisation. The central visionary moment, Und als er auf dem Wege war, is rather magical, stirring the imagination and conjuring up all of those images of the road to Damascus we’ve been pre-programmed with since childhood.
The end of CD 2 brings us two recitatives and choruses from the incomplete Christus: Die Geburt Christi from Part I and Das Leiden Christi from Part II. This late Mendelssohn music is fascinating, in part due to its relative lack of familiarity, but mainly through the sheer amount of drama and expressive breadth packed into brief episodes. One can at times almost imagine it as an early black and white movie, with the moments of recitative the equivalent of those blocks of texts which pop up between action scenes portrayed by the chorus.
With this Elias we have another very fine recording and performance. It was summed up as ‘impeccable’ by Michael Cookson and there is very little to add. (soprano) Letizia Scherrer has the kind of toothsome tone which carries over just about anything without turning into wobbly opera diva mode. We are once again in the very safe hands of Michael Volle in the title role, and all other solo parts are equally secure and convincing. Special movements such as the unaccompanied three angels singing Hebe deine Augen auf zu den Bergen are gorgeous.The recording is perhaps not quite as transparent as with Paulus, with the parts of the choir sounding a just little collapsed and centre-channel at times. There’s a funny little bump and a minor and momentary loss of volume 1:10 into Fürchte dich nicht; track two on the second CD, but otherwise this is another top-notch technical triumph.
For a one-stop place to have Mendelssohn’s oratorios on your shelf this box set is hard to beat. Texts are all given in German and English, there are full track listings on each cardboard CD sleeve, excellent booklet notes on all of the works and documentation on the performers. There’s no such thing as a ‘budget’ Carus release, and this set is one you can possess with pride and enjoy at length.
Dominy Clements
Paulus (St.Paul)
Maria Cristina Kiehr, (soprano) (Ananias)
Werner Güra, (tenor) (Barnabas)
Michael Volle, (bass) (Saul of Tarsus/St. Paul)
Patrick Pobeschin, (bass)
Adolph Seidel, (bass)
Sigrum Maria Borntrager, (alto)
Maria Bernius, (soprano)
Julian Prégardien, (tenor)
Sonntraud Engels-Benz (organ)
Kammerchor Stuttgart
Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen/Frieder Bernius
rec. 16-17, 19 September 2005 at Forum Ludwigsburg, Germany.
Christus (Oratorio fragments) for soloists, choir and orchestra, Op. 97
Cornelius Hauptmann, (bass)
Johannes-Christoph Happel (baritone)
Christoph Prégardien, (tenor)
Dorothea Rieger, (soprano)
Sonntraud Engels-Benz (organ)
Kammerchor Stuttgart,
Mitglieder der Bamberger Symphoniker/Frieder Bernius
rec. May 1987, Pfarrkirche Schwaigern, Germany (1-3) and Pfarrkirche Gönningen (4-8), Germany. 
Letizia Scherrer, (soprano) (Widow, Youth, Angel);
Renée Morloc, (alto) (Angel)
Werner Güra, (tenor) (Obadiah)
Michael Volle, (bass) (Elijah)
Sarah Wegener, (soprano) (child)
Ute Schulze, (soprano)
Maria Bernius, (soprano)
Ute Feuerecker, (alto)
Elke Rutz, (alto)
Jörg Genslein, (tenor)
Nik Koch, (tenor)
Alexander Lauer, (bass)
Adolph Seidel, (bass)
Sarah Wegener, (soprano)
Sigrun Maria Bornträger, (alto)
Kammerchor Stuttgart
Klassische Philharmonie Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius
rec. 3-5 January 2007, Evangelische Stadtkirche, Schwaigern, Germany.