Part 5: Singing Mendelssohn's praises

The Hallé and Mark Elder revealed a hidden treasure with their performance of the Second Symphony, says Tristan Jakob-Hoff

 

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Mendelssohn’s Lobgesang Symphony is still ringing in my ears this morning after last night’s performance by the Hallé under Mark Elder. Actually, that’s not strictly true – my ears are in fact ringing with a recording of the same work I downloaded this morning. But full credit to Elder and Co. for inspiring me to do so – after all, this is a piece which, a mere 24 hours ago, I had never heard before.

The pace of the Proms can be difficult to keep up with – it is hard even to get to all the events you consider 'unmissable'. But it is also a festival that yields happy surprises, especially when you take a chance to try something you normally wouldn’t. The programme last night was, possibly for the first time in my concert-going life, completely unfamiliar to me; I mostly went to catch up with a friend of mine whom I knew would be there.

That meant I had the pleasure of hearing Berlioz’s Benvenuto Cellini overture and La mort de Cléopâtre – in an intensely expressive performance by mezzo-soprano Susan Graham – with entirely fresh ears.

The Lobgesang is what will stay with me though. Mendelssohn’s so-called 'Hymn of Praise' is rarely performed – my friend said he had waited years to hear it live – and I suppose this is due to its slightly unwieldy structure, a strange hybrid of early Romantic symphony and Bach-style cantata, complete with arias, recitatives and choruses.

I can’t imagine it would convince everyone, but Elder and his Hallé forces certainly convinced me. It helped no end that everyone involved seemed so thoroughly dedicated to the cause, with extra credit going to the combined Hallé Choir and Youth Choir for their superbly committed singing throughout. The penultimate chorus, an unaccompanied setting of Nun danket alle Gott, was particularly sublime.

It was not a perfect performance, to be completely honest – Elder’s generally fast tempos occasionally blurred Mendelssohn’s melodic invention and the vocal soloists lacked inspiration – but it was an actual live performance, and with some pieces that is enough. For me, it was simply one of those magical discoveries the Proms seems to specialise in.
 
Tristan Jakob-Hoff is a freelance music writer, critic, and a  contributor to The Guardian. He has been a fervent Prommer for the last six years, and can be found every summer in the middle of the Royal Albert Hall arena, looking slightly faint...
 
Main picture: Chris Christodoulou

 

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