In its day, Mendelssohn's Paulus was the last word in religious music. Schumann and Wagner praised it. The Old and the New World performed it. And its audiences loved it. But Paulus' day was soon done. After the death of Schumann and the apostasy of Wagner, audiences turned away from Paulus to Wagner's art works of the future, and, long before the century was over, only the stodgiest music lovers still loved Paulus. Nor has that situation changed. While Mendelssohn's Elijah is more or less regularly performed by choral societies, Paulus is so rarely performed as to be an unknown work.
There is a reason for this: Paulus is deeply, truly, and profoundly dull. Even at its biggest moments -- the stoning of Stephen, the conversion on the road to Damascus, the leave-taking of Paul -- Mendelssohn is unable to make the moments dramatic, much less convincing. And the rest of the work is, at best, sentimental, sanctimonious claptrap with tepid melodies, torpid harmonies, and turgid tempos. Or at least that's the way it seems in this dour, dull, and dreary performance led by Helmut Rilling. Although his solo singers are outstanding, his choral singing is superlative, his orchestral playing is superb, and his conducting is more than competent, Rilling's conception of the work is so monumentally stolid, so massively tedious, and so colossally boring that Paulus is worse than reactionary; it is irrelevant. Hänssler's sound is thick, heavy, and lackluster.