ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn
WORKS: Sechs Sprüche für das Kirchenjahr, Op. 79; Hear my prayer; Die deutsche Liturgie; Drei Psalmen, Op. 78; Aus tiefer Not; Ave Maria; Mitten wir im Leben sind; Hör mein Bitten
PERFORMER: Choir of Trinity College, Cambridge/Richard Marlow
Choir of St John’s College, Cambridge/David Hill; John Robinson (organ)
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 1033, CDA 67558
Mendelssohn’s choral music lies a long way from his salon style, with its academic rigour and openness of expression. Two Cambridge colleges, Trinity and John’s, come at it from completely different angles on these new releases. What you hear confirms what we already know about their respective directors. Marlow’s is a fragile, beauty-centered sound, while Hill favours muscle and drama. The Trinity sound is always captivating, with its abiding sense of perfection and blend; Rachel Bennett is the signature soloist, featuring on nearly half the tracks. She can ping out high notes for England, and seems to do so with vertiginous laissez-faire. I love the engineering, too – it’s direct yet spacious. The John’s performance, on the other hand, is far more full-on and driven. Hill always aims at continental fullness of sound, and the projection this achieves is not at issue. The tuning, however, is (viz the opening of track one). I’m afraid any epic qualities do not trump the raw treble tone quality which comes part and parcel of such forceful singing. Ditto the gentlemen altos – yes, chaps, we can hear you. I’m troubled, too, by the distant sound-capture.
Were the microphones differently placed for some tracks? Things are rather boxy until track 10, Richte mich Gott, where a new directness appears. This fine motet is, in fact, signal to the debate: here Trinity is whimsical, unanimous of blend, lacking any degree of fervour whatsoever; John’s is petulant, furrowed of brow, well-paced and committed. A hybrid of the two would be nigh on perfect, and that’s pretty much what the old Corydon Singers recording achieved, sadly now deleted. Herreweghe’s Collegium Vocale of Gent on Harmonia Mundi gives a continental perspective on this repertoire – the performance is alive, responsive and flexible, even if the overall technical accomplishment is at a lower level. Of the two new releases, even if it does not always inhabit the music fully, Trinity is ultimately a more satisfactory recording experience. The solo sections are an object lesson in unanimity of purpose, from which many a weightier voice could learn, and the clean, fresh response to text is winning. William Whitehead