Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 2 (Hymn of Praise)

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Hanssler
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (Hymn of Praise)
PERFORMER: Michaela Kaune, Norine Burgess (soprano), Christoph Genz (tenor); Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart/Helmuth Rilling
CATALOGUE NO: 98.176
Mendelssohn’s ‘Hymn of Praise’, written in 1840 to celebrate the quatercentenary of Gutenberg’s invention of printing, is a ‘symphony- cantata’, consisting of a compact three-movement orchestral sinfonia followed by an extended setting of texts from the Old Testament. ‘First the instruments should sing,’ Mendelssohn said, ‘then the voices.’ On this live recording, Helmuth Rilling directs his Stuttgart forces in a generally brisk performance, even starting the Allegro of the first movement at a breakneck pace which proves impossible to sustain. With no more than serviceable soloists, this is hardly a strong recommendation in what is anyway a rather uneven work.

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Mendelssohn is in more consistent form in his fine setting of Psalm 42 (‘As pants the hart’), and in Hora est, a brilliant exercise in the archaic polychoral manner. These are unexpectedly coupled with Dvorák’s 1892 Te Deum, which combines Bohemian freshness with echoes of Verdi, one of the few contemporaries Dvorák admired. Rilling’s chorus sings the Psalm with clarity, but at the expense of legato, creating a rather choppy effect; the Dvorák is marred by a woolly live recording, and some unconvincing fluctuations of tempo in the Sanctus. The disc is recommendable chiefly for the rare nine-minute Hora est; though fans of Matthias Goerne can try spotting him in the male voice quartet in one movement of the Psalm – luxury casting indeed! Anthony Burton