Mendelssohn: Die Erste Walpurgisnacht

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COMPOSERS: Brahms,Mendelssohn,Schumann
WORKS: Mendelssohn: Die Erste Walpurgisnacht; Brahms: Nänie; Schumann: Der Königssohn
PERFORMER: Simone Schröder (alto), Burkhard Fritz (tenor), Detlef Roth (baritone), Franz-Josef Selig (bass); Audi Academy Youth Choir; Bavarian State Orchestra/Kent Nagano


 Three choral rarities here – at least for British audiences. These works are rarely performed partly, I suspect, because they’re expensive in terms of resources; but mainly because the Teutonic/Nordic mythologies they embody are no longer, alas, shared and readily accessible European cultural property. And, be warned, there are only German texts here.

It is the Druids whom we encounter in Mendelssohn’s very own rite of spring. His setting of Goethe’s Die Erste Walpurgisnacht summons up the festival of pagan spirits with finely honed strings and noble horns from the forest depths. There’s even a glimpse of Beethovenian pastoral as spring approaches. The fresh young voices of this choir are a little soft-focus, perhaps, to draw out the maximum drama. But all three works on the disc are cast with flavoursome soloists, none more so than the excellent bass, Franz-Josef Selig.
Brahms’s Nänie sets Schiller’s lament to the transience of beauty in a sound-world very much that of his German Requiem. And then, rarest of all, Schumann’s Königssohn. This is a setting of the Romantic poetry of Ludwig Uhland, in a choral ballad which shows Schumann’s skills as choral director and composer. Medieval knights and Nordic water-births fuse in a series of tableaux which, like all these performances, is given a bright, immediate live recording, with Kent Nagano and his engineering team judging well the resonance of Munich’s Jesuit Church. Hilary Finch