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John Terauds
Toronto Star, March 2010

Bach's Magnificat is one of the most beautiful, large scale settings of the Song of Mary. One of the key people responsible for the modern world's appreciation of this piece is his 19th-century champion, Felix Mendelssohn. In homage to the great master, Mendelssohn wrote his own setting of the text in the same key. Sounding more like Bach than something Romantic, this Magnificat is every bit as beautiful as Bach's. We hear both impressively performed by a bunch of polished performers from Yale University, led by Simon Carrington. A bonus is Mendelssohn's gorgeous setting of “Ave Maria.”

Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, February 2010

Mendelssohn’s Magnificat in D was written in 1822 when the composer was 13. Three years previously he had joined the Berlin Singakademie which had been founded by Carl Friedrich Zelter. It was under Zelter’s influence that the young prodigy studied music by pre-classical composers. So his writing of the Magnificat was influenced by the settings of the same text by J.S. Bach and C.P.E. Bach.

But this was no arcane piece of revivalism; Mendelssohn wrote for a contemporary orchestra including clarinets and horns, and without the high trumpet parts found in Bach. But Mendelssohn’s writing was pretty florid—Zelter sent the original setting of Quia respexit back. There seems to be uncertainty as to whether Zelter’s Singakademie ever sang the Magnificat and the work was excluded from the first complete edition of the composer’s works assembled in 1847.

The delightful Magnificat calls for the chorus to sing vocal lines which were conceived along lively baroque lines and were probably unsuited to the Singakademie’s three hundred members—though they did sing other baroque pieces.

Here it is performed by the 24 voice Yale Schola Cantorum, accompanied by the Yale Collegium Players. A very good job they make of it too, under Simon Carrington’s lively direction. Mendelssohn’s teenage pieces, with some notable exceptions, still have not gained full exposure so that it is a pleasure to hear this committed and vivid performance.

Though there are nods in the direction of Bach, the sound-world is very much Mendelssohn’s own, with some lovely moments such as the beautiful Quia respexit for soprano soloist (Melenie Scafide Russell) and chorus. Scafide and baritone David Dong-Geun Kim have a solo each in the piece. The remainder is set for chorus and orchestra, with the exception of Deposuit potentes set for the trio of soprano (Cecilia Leitner), mezzo-soprano (Laura C. Atkinson) and baritone (Jason P. Steigerwalt).

The Mendelssohn Magnificat is followed by a performance of the first movement of his 12th String Symphony, a piece which showcases Mendelssohn’s contrapuntal and fugal abilities. This movement is almost contemporaneous with the Magnificat.

The final Mendelssohn piece on the disc is his Ave Maria of 1830, one of his final pieces of Latin church music and a piece in which he looks back to the baroque poly-choral tradition as well as continuing the grand choral sound which he used in such pieces as Elijah…Certainly buy it if you are interested in early Mendelssohn. His Magnificat is strongly performed and the Bach is perfectly acceptable as a companion.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, October 2009

I think Mendelssohn would have been surprised to find his little Magnificat being paraded in celebration of his bicentenary year. He was just thirteen when he wrote the work having learned much from the music of Bach. It was fashioning in six sections, the young boy producing some likable melodies and a suitably haughty Fecit potentiam that could well have come from Handel. The disc juxtaposes the inspiration for his score with a performance of Bach’s Magnificat of 1723, a work that has already received a long catalogue of outstanding recordings. To further link Mendelssohn to Bach we have the opening movement of his youthful Twelfth Symphony, before we hear the mature composer in the charming Ave Maria composed in 1830. The Yale University students present a very capable period instrument orchestra accompanying a highly enthusiastic small choral group heard at its best in fast moving sections. Well balanced sound.

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