This collection of psalms by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47) was released is 2009 although it is not all new. The Psalm 42 was released earler with Dvorak's Te Deum on Hannsler CD 98.307. Conductor and choral leader Helmuth Rilling leads his orchestra and choir from Stuttgart, the Gachinger Kantori and Bach-Collegium, respectively, in in a generous collection of Mendelssohn's Bach-inspired creations, the Psalms 98, "Sing to the Lord a new song," 115, "Not unto our name, O Lord," 114, "When Israel went out of Egypt," and one of Mendelssohn's very greatest choral creations, Psalm 42, "As the heart pants."
Like always, Rilling's forces are professional, they benefit from lots of rehearsal time, and the singing and playing are consistently well-done. The choir, in particular, has excellent enunciation and the intonation is firm. The forces are abetted by starry international soloists that include soprano Sibylla Rubens, tenor Christoph Genz and bass Matthia Goerne. Everyone does their part well and the singing is universally fine.
The recording itself is a model of choral clarity and is perhaps the best-sounding recording I have heard of Mendelssohn's cantata-like creations. Every choral section can be heard and every word heard in a soundstage that is better than realistic in terms of what you hear in concert. The orchestra is also very fine and is heard to wonderful affect, although the organ obligatto seems to be absent. The booklet includes full texts and English translations, an essay on the music by Rilling, a history lesson on Mendelssohn and his choral music, a listing of every player, and brief bios of all the performers with photos of the soloists and Rilling.
Unfortunately, what lets down this promising collection is Rilling's uninspired, kapellmeisterish leadership. In contrast to his recording of Mendelssohn's choral "Lobgesang" symphony, where he mericlessly drove the first movement main theme into the ground with a driving rhythm, Rilling here seems to want to make this life- and God-induced music as foursquare as possible.
A good example of this is his oompah-like pacing when the choir enters in the finale of the magnificent Psalm 42, which is the most like a Bach cantata in construction and includes some of the composer's very best choral music. While Rubens sings magnificently in her leading role, she is held back by Rilling's lack of directorial vitality. Rilling does likewise in Psalm 98, an otherwise thrilling reading of this underperformed score that begins a capalla.
Another quibble I have is Hannsler Classics does not show you the track listings anywhere but on page 5 of the booklet. Equally as important, in my view, I am let down by the selections not included in this recording. While having four psalms is generous, Hannsler and Rilling have conspired to produce a concert that does not inlcude Mendelssohn's very best item in the genre, the Psalm 95, "Come, let us bow and prostate ourselves" which appears in most competitve collections.
Lovers of this music can have all these qualifiers rectified by purchasing the best single collection of Mendelssohn Psalms on the market, those conducted by Michael Corboz and available in a two-CD collection from apex produced by Warner Classics Mendelssohn: Psalms. Except for 2009 sound, everything else Rilling has going for him in his package -- great singing, good documentation, a fine collection -- is available in this pacakge as well as the Psalm 95 and leadership that foucses on the music's inspirational qualities and Mendelssohnian lyricism.
Listen to the finale of Psalm 42 under Corboz, with soprano Christiane Baumann being the equal to Rubens, and compare it to Rilling to understand what I mean. Here is joy verging on ecstasy where Rilling is workmanlike in approach. While the 30-year-old sound on some of Corboz's recordings can't match Rilling's 2009 digital sound, it's what's in the music that's most important and Corboz consistently finds it while Rilling does not. Last, compare price on the two collections to find another big advantage for Corboz.