musica Dei donum
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Psalms and Motets
Dir.: Marcus Creed
rec: Sep, 1999, Berlin-Dahlem, Jesus-Christus Kirche
Harmonia mundi - HMC 901740 (56'51")
Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt (Psalm 100); Motets op. 23: Mitten wir im Leben
sind, op. 23,3; Motets op. 69 (Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener in Frieden
fahren, op. 69,1; Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt, op. 69,2; Mein Herz erhebet
Gott den Herrn, op. 69,3); Motets op. 78 (Warum toben die Heiden, op. 78,1;
Richte mich, Gott, op. 78,2; Mein Gott, warum hast du mich verlassen, op. 78,3);
Missa breve (Kyrie eleison; Ehre sei Gott in der Höhe; Heilig, heilig, heilig);
Zum Abendsegen (Herr, sei gnädig unserm Flehn)
Romanticism and religious music is an odd couple. Whereas most baroque composers
devoted a large part of their time to composing religious music, most romantic
composers hardly wrote anything religious. And if they did, more often than not
it wasn't music which could be performed in church, either because of the texts
they used or because of the scale of their works, both in scoring and in length.
In many ways Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy was an exception. He composed a
considerable amount of works on religious texts. On the one hand he was inspired by
composers of the past, from Josquin to Bach, on the other hand he was a devote
and convinced Protestant, who had a thorough knowledge of the Bible. It shows
in his motets and psalm settings, a selection of which appears on this CD.
The influence of ancient masters is present everywhere in these works.
Mendelssohn shows an impressive command of polyphony, which is alternated by
homophonic passages. The motet Mitten wir im Leben sind (op. 23,3) has
an antiphonal structure; Mendelssohn uses sopranos and basses separately, like
the 'high choir' and 'low choir' in the late renaissance. In Mein Gott, warum
hast du mich verlassen (op. 78,3), a setting of Psalm 22, some phrases are
set for one solo voice, another ancient practice (cf. Schütz' Schwanengesang).
Interesting is the relationship between text and music. Mendelssohn doesn't go
as far as baroque masters like Schütz and Bach in allowing the text to dominate
the music. That doesn't mean, though, that the text is not reflected in the
music. There are some impressive examples in the setting of Psalm 2, Warum
toben die Heiden (op. 78,1). In the 4th verse ("Aber der im Himmel wohnet,
lachet ihrer, und der Herr spottet ihrer") the words lachet and
spottet are vividly illustrated in the music. And the rhetorical device
of repetition is used to great effect in "Du sollst sie mit eisernen Zepter
zerschlagen" (Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron) on zerschlagen.
The Missa breve contains three pieces from the Deutsche Liturgie,
which are for double choir - again referring to times long gone. The first and
last works on this CD, Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt (Psalm 100) and
Herr, sei gnädig unserm Flehn are rather simple and straightforward, but
impressive nevertheless. In particular in the last short piece Mendelssohn
shows his considerable contrapuntal skills. The closing phrase ("Herr, erhör'
uns" - Lord, hear us) is very moving.
The performance by the RIAS-Kammerchor can hardly be exceeded. The choral sound
is brilliant, the articulation and diction impeccable. Those who know German
can easily understand every word without reading the texts, which is quite an
achievement of both performers and recording technicians. Most pieces have
passages for solo voices which are all sung by members of the choir - very
"He is a little too fond of the dead", Hector Berlioz said ironically about
Mendelssohn. But he explained that "no one can prohibit me from delighting in
and continuing to develop what the great masters have bequeathed me, because
not everyone should be expected to start from the beginning again; but it
should be a continuation of the best of one's abilities, not a dead repetition
of what already exists." This recording is an ample demonstration of
Mendelssohn's creative powers which allowed him to put his words into practice.
Johan van Veen (© 2002)
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Work catalogue