Mendelssohn: Church Music Vol 8 - Magnificat, Gloria, Etc

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This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.


MENDELSSOHN Magnificat in D. Jesu meine Freude. Tu es Petrus. Wir glauben all an einen Gott. Gloria Frieder Bernius, cond; Andrea Brown (sop); Monica Groop (alt); Werner Gura (ten); Michael Volle (bs); Stuttgart CCh; German CP Bremen CARUS 83.216 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 69:00 Text and Translation)

This is listed as Volume 7 of the Carus survey of all of the church music by Felix Mendelssohn. Alan Swanson ( Fanfare 30:6) gave the only other release this magazine seems to have covered by these forces a cautious and antiseptic thumbs-up, while rightly warning about the curiously neutral dynamic ranges. This might be true on this release, though I am wondering if the nature of the music on Swanson’s CD was perhaps more demanding of that kind of approach. I hear the same “expert and understandable diction” that he did, but I also hear some quite thrilling passagework where the accusation of “bloodless”—so often aimed at Mendelssohn’s choral work—is completely irresponsible. While the composer was an intensely religious man, it is not accurate to portray his music as especially “churchy,” as so little of it actually made it into that forum and was given instead in private and semi-private settings of generally familiar and many times familial patronage. (One may also ask why this series considers Elijah and St. Paul as “church” music—they are not.)

The works on this fine disc are a good example of what young Felix was up to. The 13-year-old created both the Magnificat and the Gloria without any preconceived performance venues in mind. As a result, these first two major sacred works have a spontaneity and experimental risk factor that allows some very impressive moments, such as the “Qui tollis” from the Gloria. And the lyricism is particularly noteworthy as it would serve as a foundational principle for much of the composer’s later choral work. Bernius and his forces (33 chorus, 35 orchestra) give extroverted readings of these youthful yet headily mature pieces, and those wondering what Mendelssohn is like in Latin texts may be in for some ear-opening moments.

The three motets here (one actually an extended cantata, Wir glauben all an einen Gott ), are much more modeled on Bach-like examples, and contain some music that is simply exquisite in concept and almost radical the way it sounds, with contrapuntal virtuosity embellished by chromatic harmonies that seem to lose, at least temporarily, all sense of tonal center. Mendelssohn used these sacred works to experiment in ways that he avoided in his instrumental pieces, perhaps assuming that the addition of established sacred texts would allow the listener a certain grounded sense that was absent in the absence of words. Some of these techniques found their way into his later choral masterpieces, but many were not to be repeated, which makes these early works all the more enticing and ennobling.

Soloists, as you can tell by the heading, are all noteworthy performers who have the measure of each piece. The sound is excellent on this disc, the Super Audio put forth in a natural and enveloping way that centers you in the best seat in the house. This disc took me by no little surprise, and thrust itself into Want List consideration. We’ll have to see how the rest of the year goes, but I am very glad to have performances like this in my collection, and it should prove illuminating for any Serious Record Collector who is lacking early Mendelssohn choral music.

FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CV83216

  • UPC: 409350832161

  • Label: Carus

  • Composer: Felix Mendelssohn

  • Conductor: Frieder Bernius

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: German Chamber Philharmonic Bremen, Stuttgart Chamber Choir

  • Performer: Andrea Brown, Michael Volle, Monica Groop, Werner Güra