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Mendelssohn actually intended these unassuming part-songs for outdoor performance; as recounted in Birgit Schreier’s commendable annotations, the composer reported in a letter to his mother that “when we had rehearsed in a room a lot had gone wrong . . . but when [the singers] assembled that evening under the trees and started on my first song . . . it was just so magical that the tears nearly started in my eyes.” The present recording was, thankfully, made indoors—adherence to authentic performance practice does have its limits. The result, in any case, is splendid.

I hear a lot of first-rate choral singing while wearing my Fanfare reviewing hat; but I can’t recall hearing any that surpasses the work of Saxon Vocal Ensemble as presented here. Blend, balance, diction, sensitive dynamic shadings—all are as near perfect as one could ask. If any technical virtue deserves singling out, it’s the bang-on intonation of the sopranos in the upper register. But perhaps more important, there’s a certain tenderness about these performances; the pieces aren’t treated as though they were excerpts from Elijah, but gently respected for the delicate miniatures they are.

Engineering and annotation are first-rate as well. As best I can tell, this release has no direct competition, and it doesn’t need any.

James Carson

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