Mendelssohn St. Paul

The conversion of St. Paul (1567) –Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1525-1569)

Thrilling. Exhilarating. Hair-raising.

Those were some of the reactions to last night’s performance of Mendelssohn St. Paul at the Three Choirs Festival Worcester.

Wha-a-a-t? Mendelssohn?

I must confess, that until last night, and only knowing Mendelssohn Elijah, which I consider a sleeper, I wouldn’t think of Mendelssohn as exciting.

Over and over again I heard people saying, “Have you ever heard this work before?” And everyone said, “No, have you?”

Indeed this work has not been programmed since 1896 at the Three Choirs Festival. It’s long—it lasts 130 minutes plus a 20-minute intermission made for a late night.

Conductor Geraint Bowen kept the story line moving along with some very quick tempos. Soloists Eleanor Dennis (last-minute substitute for Judith Howarth) Yvonne Howard, James Oxley, and David Stout were all consistently excellent. The choir was perfect as far as I could tell—with a clear tone and rhythmically supple ensemble. 

The Philharmonic Orchestra, as usual, was top notch. They are the orchestra in residence at the Three Choirs Festival and play 7-8 concerts in the week. Based in London, this is the orchestra’s sixth year at the Festival. They regularly perform at Southbank Centre Royal Festival Hall about 35 concerts per season. Esa-Pekka Salonen is their principal conductor and artistic director.

For the Three Choir Festivals the major concerts are conducted by the principal musicians of the three cathedrals: Peter Nardone, Adrian Partington and Geraint Bowen.

It was obvious no one was sight reading. In fact I felt like asking the first violinist how many rehearsals they had—I was sitting in the front row and could nearly reach out and touch her.

The work consists of solos, duets, recitatives, choruses and instrumental interludes; its form reminded me of Bach’s St. Matthew Passion—and no wonder. Mendelssohn was given a score of Bach’s monumental work at age 15, and it made quite an impression on him. He performed the work in 1829, one hundred years after its first performance in 1729.

A brilliant, super concert!

About Katherine Crosier

In addition to playing the organ I am interested in documenting life's special moments through journaling, scrapbooking, photography and slideshow production. My family just groans.
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5 Responses to Mendelssohn St. Paul

  1. Celia Larner says:

    Perhaps you could correct one point: the soprano soloist was Eleanor Dennis, substituting for Judith Howarth, whom she replaced at short notice.

  2. Tim Carney says:

    The overture is thrilling–Wachet Auf!

  3. Barbara Kidder says:

    Loved this post; your marvelous description and pictures made me feel as if I were there!
    It has spurred me to listen to this work, which I do not know. I do, however, love Mendelssohn’s ‘Elijah’, so now am excited to hear the ‘St. Paul Oratorio’!
    I visited Worcester and its Cathedral four years ago, in pursuit of all things, ‘Jane Austen’. With the 200th anniversary of her death this year, you must be seeing and meeting many of her admirers. I hope you were able to see the crypt where she is buried (in Worcester Cathedral) and the heartfelt tribute, inscribed on a plaque, by her brother.
    Thank you for your charming postings.

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