MENDELSSOHN: Lobgesang Symphony-Cantata Op. 52 – Christiane Karg & Maria Bernius, sopranos/ Werner Gura, tenor/ Stuttgart Chamber Choir/ German Chamber Philharmonic, Bremen/ Frieder Bernius – Carus multichannel SACD 83.213, 61:51 [Distr. by Albany] ****:
Mendelssohn’s most substantial symphonic work was one of his most popular works back in the 19th century, but is almost totally ignored today. The composer originally envisioned it as a small oratorio or large psalm composition, but a friend suggested it was actually a symphony-cantata. The addition of the soloists and chorus naturally had critics of the time comparing it to Beethoven’s Ninth, but usually negatively. Where Beethoven used opposed choral and instrumental forces, Mendelssohn had both forces working together in praise of God, a less dramatic layout. The lyrics for the fourth thru twelfth vocal sections generally sing the praise of the Lord, though the eighth movement oddly presents a tenor solo decrying the terrors of hell and associated dark doings. (Complete English translations are in the booklet – thank you for that, Carus.)
The three movement Sinfonia which opens the work instrumentally is in a rich romantic style, often using a dotted rhythmic feature. Some allusions to the vocal music that is to come are dropped here and there in the instrumental section. The second movement is a light chorale melody which will later be heard again, and the third movement is devotional in nature as it leads up to the first soprano soloist and chorus section.
Though this is but a chamber orchestra, the array of vocal and instrumental forces gives the impression of a quite massive work. Carus’ fine hi-res surround separates the vocal forces from the orchestra and highlights small details thruout the work. The symphony benefits greatly from SACD recording, just as do the Mahler symphonies with vocal additions.
– John Sunier