MENDELSSOHN: Die Erste Walpurgisnacht; BRAHMS: Nanie; SCHUMANN: Der Konigssohn – Simone Schroder, alto/ Burkhard Fritz, tenor/ Detlef Roth, baritone/ Franz-Josef Selig, bass/ Audi Young Peoples Choral Academy/ Bavarian State Orchestra/ Kent Nagano – Farao 108059, 70:39 [Distr. by Naxos] *****:
Whether it’s the Celtic cult of Spring, the lamenting of the budding age of nature as reflected in Greek mythology long suppressed by those terrible Christians, or the rollicking tales combined from Nordic mythology, German knights, dragons, storms at sea—you name them—you will find plenty on this album to revel in if that is your thing. And in this case it should be your thing as Nagano and company have put together three works of such exquisite beauty that one is hard pressed to not luxuriate in them.
Nanie (Song of Lament) from a poem by Schiller is one of Brahms’s most beautiful choral works, and the man knew a thing or two about choral writing. This is as beautifully sung a version as I can recall, and the ecstatic nature of the music overwhelms you from the start. I didn’t think Nagano, usually a rather cold fish for me, had it in him, but he rather vociferously and in-your-face proves me wrong here. Likewise with Schumann’s delectable Der Konigssohn (Royal Son), another relatively unknown and under-heard and underperformed work by that consummate romantic master, who here spins the tale of poet Ludwig Uhland while using the chorus as the narrator—a stroke of genius. The music is first rate in every way.
But it belongs to Mendelssohn’s sensational epic cantata Die Erste Walpurgisnacht (The First Walpurgis Night) to steal the show. This piece by Goethe was a warm-up for Faust and was written—unusually, as Goethe did not think that much of composers—with the intention of it being set to music. Several tried, but only Mendelssohn really conquered the text in one of his best works, finally revised in 1843. It tells of Druid pagans trying to scare the Christians away so that they can celebrate their rituals.
This is really a sensational disc, brilliantly recorded, and one that I know will get a lot of play time at my house. My favorite modern recording of the Mendelssohn is the Cleveland/Telarc/Dohnanyi release with the “Scottish” Symphony, but I think this tops it. Best of all is the old RCA/Ormandy, if you can find it. But this one will delight from first to last, and as a concept album it works wonderfully and is perfectly recorded too. Highly recommended!
— Steven Ritter
Live from Salzburg = WAGNER, MAHLER: Lieder – Elina Garanca/ Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra/ Christian Thielemann – DGG
Two live concerts… the spirit for music-making, rising above the rigor of Covid…