This Easter, in an innovative departure from the seasonal tradition of presenting Handel’s Messiah, The Playhouse Company has announced it plans to stage a performance of Mendelssohn’s grand-scale Symphony No 2.
Titled Lobgesang, or Hymn of Praise, the work was conceived by its composer as “a Symphony-Cantata on Words of the Holy Bible”. Originally composed in 1840, it falls between Mendelssohn’s two other great choral masterworks, his oratorios, St Paul (1836) and Elijah (1846).
It is structured in three purely orchestral movements followed by 11 movements for chorus and or soloists and orchestra, and lasts approximately 65-70 minutes in total. This rarely heard piece will be given as a semi-staged production in the Playhouse Opera theatre, directed by Marcus Desando and conducted by Lykele Temmingh, with the choir trained by Gerhard Geist.
Accompanied by the KZN Philharmonic Orchestra and the eThekwini Choristers, the production will feature top South African soloists, Bongani Tembe (tenor), Hanli Stapela (soprano) and Khumbuzile Dlamini (soprano).
Originally composed in response to a commission to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Johan Gutenberg’s first movable printing press, the text of Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise is derived from various psalms and Bible verses from Ephesians, Isaiah and Romans, which inspired Mendelssohn to compose his magnificent work.
Like its two companion oratorios, which share honoured places in the Mendelssohn oeuvre, the work testifies to its creator’s lifelong devotion to the great choral masterworks of Johann Sebastian Bach.
Unlike many of Mendelssohn’s other compositions, this symphony made it into print almost immediately, appropriate considering why it was written. Of great significance to Mendelssohn, the work’s premiere was given in Leipzig’s famed Thomaskirche – the same church in which his idol, Bach, had served as Kapellmeister for much of his life.
Testifying to the earlier composer’s profound influence on Mendelssohn, his family are said to have referred to the work as “the Printers Cantata”. While it contains no obvious reference to printing, its texts simply link the anniversary celebration to the famous Gutenberg Bible, and the influence of Bach is palpable throughout the score.
As Kapellmeister, Bach had written countless cantatas for the Thomaskirche, and these resonate historically through Mendelssohn’s magnum opus. Although there is no standard format for a Bach cantata, the loose-knit structure Mendelssohn deploys follows some of the musical devices favoured by his musical ancestor. Like Bach, he introduces the Lutheran chorale, Nun danket alle Gott, familiar as the hymn Now Thank We All Our God, into his music.
In all, there is plenty to relish in this score, not least its climactic Hallelujah Chorus which had the work’s first English audience jumping to its feet. The symphony’s most celebrated movement is the glorious soprano duet with chorus, I waited for the Lord. After hearing the first performance, Mendelssohn’s contemporary and fellow composer, Robert Schumann said that “it was akin to glimpsing heaven filled with Raphael Madonnas”.
The Hymn of Praise promises to be an uplifting experience for music lovers. Early booking is advised for this special Easter Sunday matinee concert, which starts at 3pm. Tickets range from R80 to R100 and are available at Computicket online at www.computicket.com, at 0861 915 8000, at Shoprite Checkers money market counters or at the Playhouse Box Office, 031 369 9540 during office hours.
Alternatively, tickets can be booked via the Playhouse website – www.playhousecompany.com; or Facebook page “The Playhouse Company”.
The presenters recommend the experience as a great family outing and advise that group bookings of 10 or more qualify a 10 percent discount. Secure and subsidised parking is available at The Royal Parkade and additional parking is available at the Albany Parking Garage.