Paulus (Frühbeck de Burgos)
Soloists/Boys’ Choir “Wuppertale Kurrende” and Düsseldorf Musikverein Chorus/Düsseldorf SO/ Frühbeck de Burgos; HMV
In the gospel according to Bernard Shaw, St Paul figures as “the eternal enemy of woman”. Mendelssohn helped her to fight back, by giving the Lord the voice of a lady, while Jesus is mystically represented by a female quartet. It seems fitting that the soprano should take the top honours of these three records; Helen Donath sings throughout with real feeling and distinction. The alto of Hanna Schwarz though far less ubiquitous and demanding is always effective. The men and boys are less impressive. Fischer-Dieskau sounds suitably sober and saintly as Paul, but the unconverted Saul seems correspondingly unconvincing. Werner Hollweg has the unhappy foible of breaking the melodic line with stifled sobs, as if he were performing in St Pauliacci. The boys’ choir struck me as insufficiently sophisticated for the suave oratorio style; their top notes sound strained, and their singing in general lacked clear articulation. But if the tenor had had rather less break in the voice, and the choristers rather more, the result might have been wholly admirable. As it is, the unfailing grace of the orchestral playing has a redeeming effect; and those with a taste for Mendelssohn’s musical theology, with its typical blend of sweet piety and bitter recrimination, oil and vinegar, may well relish these records for that reason.
The Musical Times, Feb. 1979 (p. 131) © the estate of eric sams