Andrew Palmer, Group Editor

Classical Music: Hensel & Mendelssohn: Choral Works

Classical Music: Hensel & Mendelssohn: Choral Works

Fanny Hensel: Hiob; Gartenlieder; Felix Mendelssohn: Die erste Walpurgisnacht;Vom Himmel hoch.

Julia Doyle (Soprano), Jess Dandy (Contralto), Mark Le Brocq (Tenor), Ashley Riches (bass-baritone).

Crouch End Festival Chorus & London Mozart
Players. Conductor: David Temple

Chandos: CHSA 5318

Felix Mendelssohn’s contribution to choral music is much more than his often-sung large-scale choral work Elijah or the not-so-often performed St Paul, as this new Chandos release attests.

From the sparkling opening of his chorale cantata Vom Himmel hoch, the Crouch End Festival Chorus under David Temple’s direction demonstrate both Felix and his sister, Fanny's, remarkable compositional skill with these rarely performed but captivating works.

Felix revived J.S. Bach’s popularity by championing performances of the great man’s works. Vom Himmel hoch is delightful and Bachian in sound. Mendelssohn takes the established cantata formula, sets verses to the Lutheran choral, and presents a wonderful Christmas choral piece.

Baritone Ashley Riches’ lovely tone in the first aria, 'Es ist der Herr Christ', is performed with warmth and sensitivity, as is Julia Doyle’s soprano aria, ‘Sei willekomm, du edler Gast', every word delivered with a lucent radiance. Felix’s Die erste Walpurgisnacht is based on a ballad by Goethe and has moments reminiscent of Elijah and other of Felix’s works. Mendelssohn revised the work extensively in 1843, and it is this later version that is performed here. The quartet of soloists is well chosen. It is quite operatic in parts, and Marston informs us that Berlioz heard it at the Leipzig premiere and described it favourably as ‘apparent confusion that is art perfected'.

In between the brother’s choral works are two pieces by Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel. The first Hiob ('Job') was, as Nicholas Marston writes in his comprehensive and interesting notes, the first of a series of cantatas composed between February and November 1831; it coincides with Fanny's son Sebastian’s first birthday and her second wedding anniversary. The work remained unpublished until 1992. It matches her brother’s cantata with vivacious and melodic writing.

Fanny’s Gartenlieder are a wonderful find. Why do we not hear these incredible unaccompanied works more often? Such attractive and sublime pieces, which the choir performs superbly, capturing the emotional nuances. I have been replaying them since encountering this CD.

David Temple has obviously immersed himself in the works, and it shows with such fine performances, not just from the chorus but also from the London Mozart Players, who delight with excellently shaped lines, all caught with the consummate skill associated with Chandos’ recording engineers.

All choral society conductors would do well to explore this disc for alternatives to Christmas programming and, not least, for Fanny Mendelssohn’s Gartenlieder.

A thoroughly enjoyable disc and not just for fans of choral works.