Meinardus Commemorates Luther

Review by: John Greene

Meinardus

Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 9

Ludwig Meinardus, in collaboration with the poet Wilhelm Rossmann, began composing his oratorio Luther in Worms in 1871 to commemorate the 350th anniversary of Luther’s famous speech there before the council set to determine his fate. It’s a rather conservative setting, modeled in the longstanding oratorio tradition of Bach, and especially Mendelssohn. It’s also a work with conflicting elements that preclude an unqualified assessment.

On the one hand, it’s quite a beautiful piece, featuring many lovely moments throughout. The subtle shaping of the light choral polyphony of the Miserere nobis and the ideal pacing in the orchestral intermezzo prior to Luther’s reckoning are especially moving. Under the direction of Hermann Max, the Rheinische Kantorei, Concerto Köln, and the eight vocal soloists deliver uniformly enthusiastic performances. A better collective effort would be hard to imagine.

On the other hand, there’s really nothing here that’s memorable, let alone original. There’s an overall static nature to the piece, a predictability of form that, depending on your tolerance for musical convention, ranges from (at best) an appreciation of the composer’s clever attempts at pastiche to (at worst) his indulgence in the tediously trite. Arguably, the most exasperating moment occurs in the finale of the second movement where the chorus is divided far left and far right to represent the fury of the crowds supporting both Rome and Luther. You’d think that the dramatic potential here would be all but inevitable. However, any sense of opposition or conflict is undermined by Meinardus’ perpetually undulating, bland sonorities and rote orchestration.

CPO’s sound is fine, with an ample soundstage and a convincing integration of the vocal soloists and choir. The notes are comprehensive and informative. This is a noble project that I gather will appeal mostly to Luther enthusiasts or to those interested in the historical event itself. It’s doubtful though that others who invest their time here will find enough to compel them to return.



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Recording Details:

  • Catalina Bertucci (soprano); Annette Gutjahr (alto); Clemens Loschmann, Corby Welch (tenor);
    Matthias Vieweg, Markus Flaig, Clemens Heidrich, Ansgar Eimann (bass)
  • Rheinische Kantorei, Concerto Köln, Hermann Max

  • CPO - 777 540-2
  • CD

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