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ChoirTonal and Consonant
Hanssler Classic Record Label - Hänssler Classic: Mission: "Not only to offer standard repertoire but also to offer the adventurous listener opportunities to explore unknown or recently discovered works."

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The Sacred Choral Music of Arnold Mendelssohn

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I have to admit that when I requested a copy of this album to review, I thought that I was asking for Felix Mendelssohn, not Arnold Mendelssohn. After getting over my initial disappointment (I absolutely love the choral music of Felix Mendelssohn), I popped this in to play and the rest of the story is below.

Arnold Ludwig Mendelssohn (1855-1933) was second cousin to Felix Mendelssohn, but never made the acquaintance of his famous uncle, who had passed away eight years before his birth. Arnold Mendelssohn turned from the study of law to music and subsequently became the director of church music and a professor in Darmstadt; not surprisingly, most of his compositions are in the area of sacred music. I read in the companion booklet for this CD that Mendelssohn shunned the musical “progress” of the early 20th century and saw himself “as an artist firmly rooted in the art of older times.”

The time when Arnold Mendelssohn was active, I’ve always felt, was an extremely rich period in music history when the peak of tonality overlapped with the advent of atonality. In spite of his avowed rejection of musical evolution in the first part of the 20th century, Mendelssohn’s music is hardly void of its influence. Writing in traditional forms, he exhausts the limits of tonality and makes wonderful use of the expressive technique of chromaticism. In the Epiphany motet, Op. 90/10, the opposition of darkness and light finds its musical equivalent in a grinding dissonance, unthinkable for the romantic period, which only serves to make the resolution that much more satisfying.

Directed by Frieder Bernius, the SWR Vokalensemble Stuttgart is one of the preeminent choirs active today. In terms of balance, intonation, expression – well, everything actually, the performances are faultless and absolutely gorgeous. Hänssler Classic provides a warm and glowing ambiance on this demonstration-class Super Audio CD. For any lover of choral music, this undeservedly forgotten music is not to be missed.