If you were interested in acquiring Mendelssohn’s complete Psalm Cantatas, the only way that you could have done so would have been to spend the money for the eight CD set of the composer’s complete sacred music. Now, with the release of this generously-filled Brilliant Classics CD (it runs just over 80 minutes!), you can get them all on a single disc. What’s more, both the performances and the sonics on this studio recording from 2002 are excellent. Conductor Nicol Matt leads his Chamber Choir of Europe, the Württembergische Philharmonie Reutlingen and a cast of six fine singers. On top of all this, the Brilliant Classics asking price is a steal!
Mendelssohn was active at the musical cross-roads of the classical and romantic periods. While his early training was rooted in strictly classical conventions, around him was the music of a new era in the works of Schubert and the late works of Beethoven. At this same time, composers became liberated from ecclesiastical constraints when writing sacred music as its use moved out of the church and into the concert hall. Like all music, these cantatas are not simply from one point in time. In Mendelssohn’s case, he had a vantage point from where he could see the new romanticism, while also looking back to the music of Mozart, Handel and Bach. You can hear how Mendelssohn achieved an extraordinary balance of all these influences in these beautiful Psalm Cantatas.
It’s a commonly held belief that Mendelssohn wrote his chorale cantatas as studies, in preparation for the composition of later, large scale sacred works. Most have lain in obscurity for well over a century; many of the psalm cantatas were only published as recently as the 1970’s and 80’s. Amazing. Listen to the sample that I’ve provided, which is the Grave and concluding Con moto from Psalm 114 ‘Da Israel aus Ägypten zog’, Op.51. If you’d like to hear more, you’ll find the “Buy it Now” button under the “Purchase Tab” above.
Mendelssohn, born at the very beginning of the 19th century, was a composer who stood at a number of junctures. Firstly, he straddled the sphere of the Classical masters and the new Romantic pathway being forged especially by Beethoven. Secondly, in his personal life, as a Jew who had converted to Protestantism, he struggled to be accepted fully into his new religion, despite his close adherence to its principles. Thirdly, and most relevantly to this collection, he was privy to an ongoing debate concerning the place and function of church music within religious services.
These cantatas, although relatively disregarded by the overly self-critical composer and consequently only published in the 1970s and 80s, demonstrate Mendelssohn’s ability to strike a pleasing and impressive balance between the two extremes of this debate. The pieces are certainly not ‘utility music’ intended merely to serve a specific purpose within a church service; but neither do they cast off the liturgical framework in the manner of Beethoven’s Ninth or Mendelssohn’s ‘Reformation’ Symphony. Each one succeeds in having its own captivating effect capable of transporting the listener.
The Psalm Cantatas are performed here by the Chamber Choir of Europe who, among numerous other feats, have already recorded the complete sacred choral works of both Mozart and Mendelssohn. They are led by Nicol Matt, a specialist in church music who has had several releases on Brilliant Classics and sold over eight million CDs worldwide.
Composer: Felix Mendelssohn
Felix Mendelssohn is regarded by classical music aficionados and critics alike, as one of the most prolific and gifted composers the world has ever known. Even those who could not name any of his works have heard it, as his “Wedding March” from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”, which has accompanied many a bride down the aisle.
Chamber Choir of Europe
The Chamber Choir of Europe is made up of professional singers from throughout the continent who are embarking on a solo career or are established members of national and international radio choirs, and who meet regularly for a concentrated series of rehearsals and concerts, including festivals.
Nicol Matt, one of Germany’s few new generation conductors enjoying international reputation, was born in 1970 in the Black Forest region of Germany and studied Lutheran church music, conducting, vocal coaching, score reading at the piano and singing at the music academies of Stuttgart and Strasbourg.