Ludwig MEINARDUS (1827-1896)
Luther in Worms - Oratorio in two parts for soloists, choir and orchestra, Op.36 (1st publ. 1876/1883) [103:40]
Matthias Vieweg (bass) – Luther
Catalina Bertucci (soprano) – Katarina
Clemens Löschmann (tenor) – Justus Jonas
Markus Flaig (bass) – Glapio/Kurfürst Friedrich der Weise
Annette Gutjah (alto) – Marta
Clemens Heidrich (bass) – Ulrich von Hutten
Ansgar Eimann (bass) – Georg von Frundsberg
Rheinische Kantorei
Concerto Köln/Hermann Max
rec. 2013, WDR, Stolberger Strasse, Köln
CPO 777540-2 [54:17 + 49:23]
Ludwig Meinardus appears to be a new name to MusicWeb International, and is certainly a new one to me. He was a native of Jever in the Friesian area of northern Germany, and was given encouragement in his earliest compositions by Robert Schumann, whose words persuaded him to enrol at the newly founded Leipzig Conservatory. Meinardus didn’t last long in Leipzig however, leaving in 1847 and ending up taking private lessons with Adolf Bernhard Marx. Meinardus’s life was one of restless migration, including expulsion from Prussia as a ‘foreigner’ during the 1848 Revolution. After meeting Liszt while convalescing from illness in Bad Eilsen his fortunes seemed to improve and he achieved the post of Music Director of the Singakademie in Golgau, Silesia in 1853. He later became a lecturer in Dresden and a music critic in Hamburg, also publishing a biography of Mozart and other volumes. He ended up as director of the Bielefeld Music Society, composing numerous songs and choral works there.

The oratorio Luther in Worms is based on the historical events surrounding Martin Luther’s nailing of his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg Castle Church door in 1517. It also takes in his refusal to retract his heretical writings following the demands of Pope Leo X in 1520 and the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V at the Diet of Worms in 1521, which resulted in his excommunication by the Pope and condemnation as an outlaw by the Emperor. Martin Luther was a national hero in Germany at the founding of the German State in 1871, and Luther in Worms became particularly popular in the ‘Luther year’ of 1873 in Protestant towns all over Europe.

This is a relatively conservative work in a long-established oratorio tradition, and while it is undoubtedly highly effective its musical content has a lyrical and dramatic character that sails along without imposing much in the way of highlights which make you sit up and really pay attention. The booklet notes sum it up as a “musical manifesto, a Protestant confessional work in word and music [that] does not shout out its message.” There is an operatic feel to much of the piece, with interaction between soloists and chorus and very little time wasted with orchestral interludes and introductions.

The performance is good, though there isn’t very much room for nuanced subtlety. The orchestra has an authentically antique sound but is full and warm, the musicians coping well with the sustained non-stop nature of the score. The soloists are fine for the most part, though Annette Gutjar’s tone in the role of Marta isn’t quite so appealing, and Clemens Heidrich as Ulrich von Hutten has a funny tremulous vibrato which is less than heroic. The central role of Luther is taken confidently by Matthias Vieweg, who has appropriate humility to go along with the purposefulness of the part.

Presentation for this release is up to CPO’s high standards, with full libretto printed in German and English, and with detailed translated notes. The recording is fine, though the stereo perspective seems to narrow a little for a while after track 14 on CD 2. This is one of those recordings that is more admirable than clearly recommendable. I would advise having a listen before buying, not through anything controversial. This is more a fascinating artefact of 19th century religious ‘light’ music, and there is nothing for which we can await with anticipation on repeated listening; no real highlight to which one can point and say, ‘yes – this is the heart and soul of the piece’. The finale with its use of the chorale Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott is a nice touch, but if you’ve already been driven up the wall by all the rumpty-tumpty timpani and diatonic harmonies by now it won’t rescue the situation. We are diverted without being moved, educated without learning anything new, and after wading through so much worthiness left wondering if it was all worth the effort.

Dominy Clements

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