Notes and Editorial Reviews
This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.
Symphony No. 2,
Frieder Bernius, cond; Christiane Karg (sop); Maria Bernius (sop); Werner Güra (ten); Stuttgart CCh; German CP Bremen
CARUS 83.213 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 61:51
Text and Translation)
“Lobgesang,” Mendelssohn’s unusual, out of place, and unique contribution to his own symphonic genre, is a work so wedded to the time and place of its composition that it has had a virtual nonexistence on the concert stages of the world. Though there are about 30 recordings of the piece available, almost all—perhaps not surprisingly—are of German provenance; they and the English-oratorio types are the ones most attached to the work.
The English connection is not a surprise, as the piece had its British premiere at the Birmingham Music Festival in 1840, to an immediate standing ovation. For the German first performance, the occasion was a celebratory festival of three days duration, the Leipzig Gutenberg Festival (also in 1840), so named to mark the 400th anniversary of the founding of movable type. Mendelssohn’s intention was to compose a work of jubilant persuasion, using primarily texts from the Lutheran Bible. Dramatically, it resolves using primarily positive messages, with only the very middle movement reflecting on the darkness and man’s need to continue to watch through the night. One gets the impression that Mendelssohn did this only for reasons of symphonic drama, as the clouds soon part and we are well on our way to rejoicing again.
That the piece is of extreme Victorian attribution there can be no question; it sounds it through and through, though perhaps only slightly more so than the composer’s other oratorios. But there is also a purity of line and deliberateness of intention that sets the work apart from the obvious models, like the Beethoven Ninth. It is not particularly noble, like the Beethoven, but it is conventionally eloquent and worthy of its topic. No doubt the Leipzigers found it especially convivial and full of inspiration. And we can find much to enjoy in it now, though it will never surpass the “Italian” and “Scottish” symphonies in our hearts. But there remain a cleanliness and straightforward sense of proportion and fresh appeal when the performance is right.
Bernius and company provide such a performance. This is now the 10th volume in his “church music” series of the composer, and while I have some real concerns as to whether this even really remotely qualifies for that appellation, its production is most welcome. It is slightly up-tempo in comparison to the Abbado and the recent Chailly recordings, two of the best, but does indeed compete with them, and has spectacular DSD surround sound to boot. I can easily recommend it as an only recording—only the truly devoted will want more—though I do understand if the aforementioned conductors retain their attraction among their legion of fans. Recommended.
FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in B flat major, Op. 52 "Lobgesang" by Felix Mendelssohn
Werner Güra (Tenor),
Maria Bernius (Soprano),
Christiane Karg (Soprano)
Stuttgart Chamber Choir,
German Chamber Philharmonic Bremen
Written: 1840; Germany
Date of Recording: 4/2008
Venue: Evangelische Stadtkirche, Schwaigern
Length: 61 Minutes 51 Secs.
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