THE NETHERLANDS SYMPHONY ORCHESTRA Jan Willem de Vriend
Judith van Wanroij soprano
Machteld Baumans soprano
Patrick Henckens tenor
Choir Consensus Vocalis
Choir conductor Klaas Stok
It is June 1840, you are in the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, the church where the famous composer Johann Sebastian Bach was once kapellmeister. You are there to attend the premiere of a piece of music on the occasion of the 400th anniversary of the invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg. The successful composer Felix Mendelssohn will conduct his own music. Mild excitement takes hold of you; you feel that it is going to be a magnificent concert, with orchestra, choir, soloists. Finally, it starts. The trombones begin with a regal theme that resounds through the church. The orchestra takes over the theme. You are immediately swept up by, immersed in the music – an overwhelming experience.
That must certainly have been the experience of the audience at this first performance of Mendelssohn’s symphony-cantata, as he liked to describe it. That the beginning of the piece is so overawing, by the nature of the theme and scoring of wind instruments, is not something you immediately expect from a composer such as Mendelssohn. He is known more for refinement, a cultivated melancholy that is fascinating, but does not threaten to make off with you. And of course, there is the virtuosity, which never stoops to affectation and always remains functional.1 As impressive as the regal trombone theme is, other passages of Lobgesang have probably moved audiences more deeply.