Mendelssohn: St Paul

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Arabesque
WORKS: St Paul
PERFORMER: Susan Roberts (soprano), Ruby Philogene (mezzo), Glenn Siebert (tenor), Mark Beesley (bass); Royal Scottish National Orchestra & Chorus/Leon Botstein
CATALOGUE NO: Z 6705
Premiered in 1836, seven years after his landmark resurrection of Bach’s St Matthew Passion and a full decade before Elijah, the phenomenal success of Mendelssohn’s St Paul with 19th-century critics and audiences did not prevent its falling out of fashion this century. It certainly lacks the dramatic thrust of Elijah, and its generally more reflective world – strongly modelled on the great Bach and Handel oratorios – could perhaps do with a couple more big choral numbers. But most of the music is of a very high level, a point emphasised by this first recording of the Carus-Verlag Critical Edition, which incorporates 11 early numbers (included here as a third CD) which the composer removed from his final version. The American conductor Leon Botstein, a keen advocate of the byways of 19th-century German music, shows a good grasp of Mendelssohn’s overall structure – though I did find the chorales too slow and over-reverential. The RSNO plays well for him, but the singing of the 100-strong chorus is, to my taste, lacking in incisiveness; it is hardly helped by being placed a long way back in the sound picture. Mark Beesley’s Paul cuts an anguished figure (especially before and during his conversion), the two women are excellent, while the young tenor Glenn Siebert is a real find. Masur’s 1986 Leipzig recording is, however, a good deal more urgent, and boasts both superb choral singing and a starrier solo line-up (with Gundula Janowitz and Hans Peter Blochwitz in particularly fine voice). If you just want Mendelssohn’s final thoughts, that is the version to have. Stephen Maddock

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