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Mendelssohn: Paulus / Hickox, Gritton, Rigby, Banks, Coleman-Wright, BBC NO Of Wales

Release Date: 04/28/2009 
Label:  Chandos   Catalog #: 10516   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Barry BanksJean RigbySusan GrittonPeter Coleman-Wright
Conductor:  Richard Hickox
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of WalesBBC Welsh Chorus
Number of Discs: 2 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 55 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MENDELSSOHN Paulus Richard Hickox, cond; Susan Gritton (sop); Jean Rigby (mez); Barry Banks (ten); Peter Coleman-Wright (bs); BBC Natl O & Ch, Wales CHANDOS 10516 (2 CDs: 115:13 Text and Translation)

This is a rerun from 2001 on Chandos’ “Classics” series. James Miller reviewed it in Fanfare 25:1. I will refer readers to his review for more of the details of this production. Miller seems to prefer the Masur reading, not Read more available then but reproduced now as an arkivmusic.com CD. Masur certainly deserves respect, and his cast is nothing to sneeze at, but I have come to prefer the Rilling recording on Hänssler to just about any other. His soloists, while less stellar than Masur’s, are every bit their equal, and Rilling gives us a highly charged, gorgeously sung performance of just about unequalled beauty.

Paulus only has about 10 readings currently available, and has been suffering from the equivalent of professional swine flu for many years—not many want to touch it. Soloists are certainly hard to come by, as the parts are just not that demanding. But—this oratorio is guaranteed a bright future as it remains, after Messiah , perhaps the most popular oratorio among American church goers and oratorio societies. The very lack of demanding solo parts makes it attractive to local ensembles, and the choral work is adventurous, yet attainable by lesser ensembles. Mendelssohn’s part-writing is easy to follow and logical to rehearse and teach, and he manages to get a consistently whopping sound out of his chorus while keeping well within the confines of the eminently doable.

Miller says about this Hickox rendition, “I can certainly commend it to your attention as a worthy performance, probably at least as good as the competition.” I think this sums up the recording very well. In a detailed comparison with the Rilling, Hickox is actually about nine minutes faster in each part, though Rilling sounds quicker because of a tighter control over the ensemble and a tauter rhythmic approach. He also is more devotional, perhaps too devotional in some instances, while the Chandos recording delights in the early-Wagnerian overtones found in some of the brassier moments. The more I hear the Chandos, the more I like it, and I am finding the differences between Rilling and Hickox interesting enough to appreciate both equally, and it is difficult to choose one above the other.

Okay—if forced—I would still go for Rilling, but every collection deserves two recordings of Paulus , so I can rest content. As for Masur, he is still worth hearing, and many will prefer him, but not by much. Though there are not many recordings of this early oratorio, these three alleviate any need for concern.

Incidentally, in James Miller’s review he states: “‘Wie lieblich sind die Boten die den Frieden verkündigen’ is usually translated as ‘How beautiful are the messengers that bring the gospel of peace.’ In the Masur (Philips) libretto (and some other places) it is rendered, ‘How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace,’ which is, in fact, the way the verse goes in the King James version of the Bible (Romans X:15). But ‘Boten’ means ‘messengers’ in German. Did the King James translators get the original text wrong or did Martin Luther or other German translators get it wrong?” In the Chandos issue, “messengers” is given in the translation. After nine years, I think I can help—Luther got it wrong. The word pódeV (“feet”) appears not only in Romans 10, but also in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament in Isaiah and the book of Nahum, the books from which Paul took his quote. I can’t vouch for the Hebrew, but Paul would have taken his quote from a Septuagint source (the Greek translation of the Old Testament).

FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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Works on This Recording

Saint Paul, Op. 36 by Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Barry Banks (Tenor), Jean Rigby (Mezzo Soprano), Susan Gritton (Soprano),
Peter Coleman-Wright (Bass)
Conductor:  Richard Hickox
Orchestra/Ensemble:  BBC National Orchestra of Wales,  BBC Welsh Chorus
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1836; Germany 

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