About this Recording
8.553522 - MENDELSSOHN: Symphony No. 2, 'Hymn of Praise'

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809-1847)
Symphony No.2, Op. 52, "Hymn of Praise"

Born in Hamburg in 1809, eldest son of the banker Abraham Mendelssohn and grandson of the great Jewish thinker Moses Mendelssohn, Felix Mendelssohn, who took the additional name Bartholdy on his baptism as a Christian - Heine's ticket of admission to European culture - was brought up in Berlin, where his family settled in 1812. Here he enjoyed the wide cultural opportunities that his family offered, through their own interests and connections. Mendelssohn's early gifts, manifested in a number of directions, included marked musical precocity, both as a player and as a composer, at a remarkably early age. These exceptional abilities received every encouragement from his family and their friends, although Abraham Mendelssohn entertained early doubts about the desirability of his son taking the profession of musician. These reservations were in part put to rest by the advice of Cherubini in Paris and by the increasing signs of the boy's musical abilities and interests.

Mendelssohn's early manhood brought the opportunity to travel, as far south as Naples and as far north as The Hebrides, with Italy and Scotland both providing the inspiration for later symphonies. His career involved him in the Lower Rhine Festival in Düsseldorf and a period as city director of music, followed, in 1835, by appointment as conductor of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in Leipzig. Here he was able to continue the work he had started in Berlin six years earlier, when he had conducted a revival of Bach's St Matthew Passion. Leipzig was to provide a degree of satisfaction that he could not find in Berlin, where he returned at the invitation of King Friedrich Wilhelm IV in 1841. In Leipzig once more, in 1843, he established a new Conservatory, spending his final years there, until his death at the age of 38 on 4th November 1847, six months after the death of his gifted and beloved sister Fanny.

Mendelssohn wrote his second symphony, Lobgesang (Hymn of Praise), in 1840 as part of the musical celebration of the quartercentenary of Gutenberg's invention of printing with movable type. For the same occasion he wrote his Festgesang, the source of the English Christmas hymn Hark, the herald angels sing, originally a song in praise of Gutenberg. Mendelssohn had in fact already completed three symphonies but discounted the fifth, the Reformation Symphony, which he saw as a failure, and the Italian Symphony, which he intended to revise. The Scottish Symphony was eventually completed in 1842. Lobgesang enjoyed immediate popularity at its first performance in Leipzig in June 1840, followed by a performance in Birmingham and. by command of the King of Saxony. a further performance in Leipzig in November, for which Mendelssohn made some revisions, notably in the addition of three further vocal movements, the tenor recitative of the third movement. the sixth movement tenor solo and the ninth movement duet for soprano and tenor. It seems that the opening Sinfonia may originally have been conceived as part of an instrumental symphony and there was the suggestion that in adding vocal elements to the rest of the work Mendelssohn was imitating Beethoven. That, at least, was the hostile judgement of Wagner who, as the self-appointed heir to Beethoven, saw in the work a feeble copy. a mere symphony with choruses: Why should not the Lord God be resoundingly praised at the end, after He has helped to conduct the three preliminary instrumental movements to the most superficial of possible conclusions, he wrote. Wagner, of course, had his own jealous reasons.

The symphony-cantata, as Mendelssohn described it, uses texts from the Luther Bible and on the score he quoted the words of Luther, Sondern ich wöllt alle künste, sonderlich die Musica, gern sehen im dienst des der sie geben und geschaffen hat (I would happily see all the arts, especially Music, in the service of Him who has given and created them), The work opens with a celebratory introduction, starting with a trombone motif that is to return, derived, it has been suggested, from plainchant. The introduction leads to a sonata-allegro movement, with a leaping first subject, followed by a secondary theme introduced by woodwind and divided violas, a theme that hints at Beethoven. The unifying motif, already heard in the exposition, has a part to play in the central development, together with other elements of the earlier thematic material. A diminuendo brings the return of the second subject, followed by the recapitulation. A clarinet, with a reminiscence of the opening motif, links the first movement to the second, a lilting G minor replacement of a scherzo, its opening melody doubled at the octave by the first violin and the cello, followed by oboe and bassoon. There is a G major chorale-like central section, before the return of the original key in a final section that is a greatly modified recapitulation. The D major Adagio religioso, with its suggestions of the opening motif, forms an appropriate link to the vocal movements that follow.

The motif returns in triumph to introduce the chorus Alles was Odem hat (Let everything that has breath), leading to the soprano solo Lobe den Herrn, meine Seele (Praise the Lord, O my soul). The French horns provide a link to the tenor recitative Saget es and the G minor aria Er zählet unsre Tränen (He counts our tears). The G minor chorus Sagt es, die ihr erlöset seid (Proclaim it, you who are delivered through the Lord) is finely written, with its predominantly triplet string accompaniment. This is followed by the well-known E flat major duet for two sopranos with chorus, Ich harrete des Herrn (I waited for the Lord), The so-called watchman scene, in a dramatic C minor, Stricke des Todes hatten uns umfangen (The bonds of death had held us) provides a moving episode of some intensity, with the watchman's question Ist die Nachte bald hin? (Will the night soon pass?) finally answered positively by a solo soprano, words that link the movement to the following D major chorus, Die nacht ist vergangen (The night is gone), a contrapuntal triumph, celebrating also the enlightenment that Gutenberg might be seen to have brought. Suggestions of Bach are pursued in the G major chorale Nun danket alle Gott (Now thank we all our God), its second verse more elaborately accompanied. The original key of B flat major returns for the duet for tenor and soprano, D'rum sing' ich mit meinem Liede (Therefore I sing in my songs). The basses introduce the final chorus with Ihr Völker! bringet her dem Herrn (You nations, bring to the Lord), returning from G minor to an inevitably contrapuntal conclusion to the words Danket dem Herrn und preise seine Herrlichkeit (Give thanks to the Lord and praise his glory), providing a splendid ending, capped by the unifying motif and words of the first chorus.

Keith Anderson

Mary Nelson
The soprano Mary Nelson was born in Northern Ireland in 1971 and studied in London at the Royal Academy of Music, where she graduated in 1994 with first class honours in performance. Further study at the London Royal Schools Joint Vocal Faculty brought her that institution's highest award, the Dip. R.A.M. Prizes during her period of study included the Henry Cummings Prize, the Oratorio Prize and the Isobel Jay Prize for Operatic Arias. She has won other awards from the Countess of Munster Trust, the Ian Fleming Charitable Trust and the Sybil Tutton Award. After appearances in Ireland, Mary Nelson made her English National Opera début in 1998 in Dvorák's Rusalka and also enjoys a successful career in oratorio and as a concert soloist.

Majella Cullagh
The Irish soprano Majella Cullagh had her musical training at the Cork School of Music and at the National Opera Studio in London. In opera she has enjoyed an international career that has included appearances at the Wexford Festival and with the Royal Danish Opera, Opera North, as well as at the Covent Garden Festival. She sang the title role in Gavin Bryar's opera Medea for BBC Scotland. At the same time she enjoys an international career as a concert artist and in oratorio and this has taken her to concert halls throughout Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands and the United States. Her recordings for Naxos and Marco Polo include participation in the complete recording of Vincent Wallace's Maritana (8.223406-07).

Adrian Thompson
The London-born tenor Adrian Thompson is a singer of great versatility with a wide-ranging operatic, concert and recital repertoire of works from the Renaissance to the contemporary. He has undertaken operatic engagements with major companies, including Glyndebourne, Covent Garden and English National Opera and throughout Europe. His concert appearances have brought collaboration with orchestras and conductors of the highest distinction, and include performances in Tokyo and Melbourne, and in major musical centres on the continent of Europe. As a recitalist he has been heard at the Aldeburgh Festival, at the Wigmore Hall with Songmakers' Almanac and at London's South Bank in a major Schubert and Schoenberg series. His many recordings include Britten's Serenade, Nocturne and Les Illuminations for Naxos.

RTE Philharmonic Choir
Founded in 1985, the RTE Philharmonic Choir has established itself as one of Ireland's finest large-scale vocal ensembles. The choir appears regularly with the National Symphony Orchestra during its Dublin concert season, has made several guest appearances at the Cork International Choral Festival and also performs from time to time with the RTE Concert Orchestra. The RTE Philharmonic Choir's CD recordings to date include Verdi's Aida, Gerard Victory's Ulrima Rerum and Stanford's Requiem on the Naxos and Marco Polo labels.

National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland
The Radio Telefís Eireann Symphony Orchestra was founded in 1947 as part of the Radio and Television service in Ireland. With its membership coming from France, Germany, Britain, Italy, Hungary, Poland and Russia, it drew together a rich blend of European culture. Apart from its many symphony concerts, the orchestra came to world-wide attention with its participation in the famous Wexford Opera Festival, an event broadcast in many parts of the world. The orchestra now enjoys the facilities of a fine new concert hall in central Dublin where it performs with the world's leading conductors and soloists. In 1990 the RTE Symphony Orchestra was augmented and renamed the National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, quickly establishing itself as one of Europe's most adventurous orchestras with programmes featuring many twentieth century compositions. In 1992 the orchestra embarked upon an extensive recording project for the Naxos and Marco Polo labels, recording music by Nielsen, Tchaikovsky, Goldmark, Rachmaninov, Brian and Strauss as well as an Irish composers' series.

Reinhard Seifried
Reinhard Seifried was born in Freising and showed early gifts as a pianist before his interest in orchestra, song and opera led him to study conducting as well as the piano and the Munich Musikhochschule. He went on to study under Franco Ferrara in Siena and started his career as a repetiteur in various opera houses, finally at the National Theatre in Mannheim. In 1977 he became conductor at the Staatstheater am Gartnerplatz in Munich, serving from 1980 to 1984 as First Kapellmeister. He was personal assistant to Leonard Bernstein for the Munich production of Tristan and Isolde, and worked also as assistant to Rudolph Kempe, Rafael Kubelik and Karl Richter. Engagements with various orchestras at home and abroad were followed by his appointment as General Music Director in Remscheid from summer 1991 to autumn 1993 and as General Music Director at the Oldenburg Staatstheater until August 2000. He is currently working freelance both in Germany and abroad. His collaboration with Naxos began in 1993 and has brought a number of acclaimed recordings.

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