Jun Märkl

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 2 "Lobgesang"

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Felix Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 52, "Lobgesang," composed for an event marking the 400th anniversary of the invention of the printing press, has had a wildly varied reception history. For much of the 19th century, this work by the Jewish-born composer seemed the very essence of German Lutheran piety. For criticism of the late 20th century it was a bombastic, somehow dishonest work; in Charles Rosen's memorable phrase, it marked the invention of religious kitsch in music. Perhaps a more balanced view is possible if one listens to the sprawling symphony, really a cantata, without ideological filters in place. The work emerges as an effort on the part of the now-mature composer to step out of his comfort zone, and to come to grips with the example of then 13-year-old Beethoven's Symphony No. 9, all while feeding his own growing interest in Bach's music. Seen this way, the work's failures are as interesting as its successes: its garish contrasts result from an effort to unify a fragmenting musical world. This is a fine, straightforward performance by the forces of the MDR Orchestra and Choir (MDR is Mitteldeutsches Rundfunk, or Middle German Radio) and it may be that a modest orchestra and choir do better with this work than major outfits that load more meaning onto it than it can easily bear. The choir is one of those extraordinarily warm regional ensembles that attest to the high level of basic musicianship in Germany. Conductor Jun Märkl doesn't front-load the work with heavy emphasis on the opening sinfonia; the music's interest lies partly in the sequence of guises in which the chorus and soloists emerge, and he allows these to appear naturally. The soloists, especially veteran soprano Ruth Ziesak, are first-rate. Booklet notes, including the music's texts (mostly psalms), are in German and English.

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