Mendelssohn: Antigone

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
WORKS: Antigone
PERFORMER: Angela Winkler, Joachim Kuntzsch, Michael Ransburg & Julian Nachtmann (speakers), Manfred Bittner (bass); Kammerchor Stuttgart (Männerstimmen); Klassiche Philharmonie Stuttgart/Frieder Bernius


In 1850, with Mendelssohn  safely dead, the critic Eduard Krüger ventured to remark how, a few years earlier, the composer’s Antigone had been praised in the newspapers ‘while very quietly a few odd fellows whispered that the thing was damned tedious…’. At the risk of being written off as an ‘odd fellow’ I must, sadly, concur.

The restriction of the chorus to male voices, in deference to ancient Greek custom, becomes wearisome over time and there are moments when the old men of Thebes seem to be pulling up their lederhosen in preparation for a tramp over the Alps. 

Worst of all is Mendelssohn’s setting of one of the greatest choruses in all Greek tragedy, ‘Polla ta deina’ – ‘There are many extraordinary things in the world, but the most extraordinary of all is man’ – where the music trips along in 6/8 time on the lines of ‘The flowers that bloom in the spring’. Tra-la.


Frieder Bernius and his Stuttgart forces seem to take it all seriously but the material, including long stretches of spoken German from Antigone (rather shrill), Creon and others, is really beyond rescue. Perhaps if Mendelssohn had lived on after his sister Fanny’s death he might, as the astonishing F minor Quartet suggests, have responded more profoundly to this great tragic text. As it is…enough said. Roger Nichols