Mendelssohn devoted a significant amount of energy to religious choral music, but the only piece well known to modern audiences is the oratorio Elijah. Fans of that work should be interested in these four Psalm settings, which are strikingly similar to the music of Elijah in their musical language and dramatic content. The Psalms recorded here span the composer's career, written between 1830 and 1843, four years before his death. They are essentially cantatas, with multiple movements that include choruses, solo arias, and recitatives, and they last from 7 to 25 minutes. The composer was immersed in the music of J.S. Bach, so it's not surprising that many of the choruses are significantly contrapuntal in character. At the same time, the music is recognizably the product of a Romantic sensibility in its warm expressiveness and rich and colorful harmonies. None of the settings represent the composer at his most melodically inspired, but they are well crafted and obviously deeply felt. Helmuth Rilling, leading Gächinger Kantorei Stuttgart and the orchestra, Bach-Collegium Stuttgart, makes a strong case for these rarely heard works. Rilling conducts with breadth and warmth, and highlights the dramatic contrasts Mendelssohn built into the works. The blend and fullness of the chorus are especially impressive. The many soloists are very fine, but soprano Sibylla Rubens stands out for her work in Psalm 42. Hänssler's sound is ideally resonant, clear, and clean enough for details to be heard easily.
Mendelssohn: Psalms Nos. 42, 98, 114 & 115 Review
by Stephen Eddins