Thursday 7 May 2009

Mendelssohn - Evensong from the Temple

The Temple Church was the scene of Ernest Lough's famous recording of Mendelssohn's Oh for the wings of a dove, which he made as a treble in 1927 with George Thalben-Ball at the organ. So it was entirely appropriate that the BBC should be broadcasting Evensong from there on Wednesday 7th May in the run up to their Mendelssohn celebrations. I went along to hear the service live.

Under their musical director James Vivian the choir of Temple Church made a good showing, fielding 15 trebles and 14 singing men (altos, tenors and basses). The programme, alas, did not include Mendelssohn's own Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis (some of the last choral music which he wrote, and music written with the English service of Evensong in mind). But they opened with the motet Richte mich Gott. Written for 8-part choir, Mendelssohn alternates the upper and lower voices, the choir created a severe majesty particularly as the upper sections were sung by counter-tenors and trebles rather than women. The tone blossomed nicely at the words 'Sende dein Licht', the point where Mendelssohn lets himself go. The motet is rather long to be used as an introit, but on such a special occasion it was well worth hearing in this position, especially in a performance which showed Mendelssohn at his most Brahmsian.

The Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were Walmisley in D minor; Thomas Atwood Walmisly (1814 - 1856) was a distinguished Victorian organist who had Thomas Atwood as his godfather and he was taught by both his father and Atwood (Atwood, of course, was one of Mozart's favorite pupils). His Mag and Nunc are standard Anglican fare, relying on the alternation of upper and lower voices, along with passages in unison, over a strong organ part. Only in the final 'Glory be to the Father' do we get 4 part polyphony. Whilst I could have wished for a more interesting setting of the Canticles, the choir gave the pieces a strong and musical performance.

The closing anthem was the first choral movement from Mendelssohn's Lobesgesang, along with an organ prelude taken from the instrumental movements of the piece. This is music written for large scale forces and you can hear it in full at the Proms this year (Prom 19 on 30th July). The choir and organ did a superb job at conveying the breadth of the piece.

The service concluded with a fine account of Mendelssohn's Prelude and Fugue in C minor.

The Mendelssohn jubilation commences in earnest on Friday with a live broadcast from Birmingham Town Hall which re-creates the premiere of Elijah. This performance uses 9 soloists (as opposed to the regular 4), which means that Mendelssohn's writing for vocal ensemble (including the wonderful octet) can be performed correctly (as opposed to by semi-chorus).

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