21 June 2012
“THE CONCERT OF THE MENDELSSOHN UNION, at Dodworth’s Hall, was largely attended, the programme being ‘Beethoven’s Ruins of Athens,’ and a miscellaneous selection for the second act. We are rejoiced to be able to give unqualified praise to the choral performance of this society. Great care [missing text] voices were bright and telling, every point was taken up promptly, and the ensemble of the excellent voices was both rich and effective. Formerly some over ambitious choristers strove to derive prominence at the expense of harmony, by shouting out their parts mostly out of tune, as though they were solos; but on this occasion all were toned down to a well-balanced performance. The accompanist, too, stuck more to his text, and, saving a tendency to drag the tune, conducted very well.
Miss Sims, as usual, was excellent in all she undertook. She has a charming voice, sings in good style, and altogether gives good promise for the future. Miss Smith somewhat disappointed the expectations of her friends, but on the repetition of Gratias Agnus, which, by-the-by, was taken one-half too slow, she exhibited a greater degree of power, and fairly won the very warm applause she received. Miss Mayer, an excellent contralto, pleased very much in ‘Lift thine eyes’ and ‘Heaven and earth display.’ Her style and method are uncommonly good, and she sings expressively.
Of the male soloists, one, we trust, for his own sake and for the sake of the Society, will retire into private life, and the other, Mr. Lewis, did himself but little credit. He has fallen into the error of forcing and pumping out his notes, and has consequently retrograded from his promise of last season.”
“This admirable society occupies the same rank in vocal music as the Philharmonic does in instrumental. It is now in the twelfth year of its existence, and has already given to the New York public finished and artistic renditions of such good works as Eli, St. Paul, Last Judgment, Moses in Egypt, Athalie, Lobgesang, Antigone, First Walpurgis Night, May Queen, Jepththa, and His Daughter, Mozart and Cherubini’s Requiem, Berge’s Magnificat and Jubilate and Wallace’s Lurline. The last we have heard from them were the Ruins of Athens, by Beethoven, and Rossini’s Stabat Mater. Both deserve more than a passing notice. The great work of Beethoven exhibits him in a new light, and we honestly assert that no such creation has ever entered into the mind of any other composer. It is founded on one of those dramatic masques which were so popular in the days of the great magician of song, and in which the subjects are treated allegorically. In it runs the story that Minerva, the Goddess of Wisdom, was chained to a rock for disobeying the behests of her irascible sire, Jove, and was not released until many centuries had elapsed. Once free, she hastened to her beloved Athens, the city in which, above all others, her name was revered. To her grief and amazement she finds it in ruins, and the four broken pillars on the Acropolis are the sole mementoes of the days of Pericles, Solon and Alcibiades. The beloved seat of the Muses is peopled by the frenzied votaries of a wild Arab visionary, who know not Pallas nor her children. Grieved and disgusted, she next betakes herself to Germany, where she is received with the utmost enthusiasm. Such is the story on which Beethoven has founded his greatest work. The first chorus, ‘Daughter of the high throned Jove,’ is imposing, but marred by an irregularity and puerility that smacks more of the lamp and candle than the effulgence of genius. The duet which follows, ‘Faultless yet hated,’ is the plaint of the two Greek slaves mourning over the departed glories of their native land. Never has anything been written or conceived in music which touches the inmost cords of the soul more powerfully than this exquisite morceau. The great heart of Beethoven overflows with pathos and sympathy when he mourns over the
‘Clime of the unforgotten brave.’
We see her as vividly as in the magic verse of him who dies for her at Missolonghi. The rugged, broken character of the opening bars, so full of passionate grief and despair; the long, continuous, well developed melody which follows; the plaintive, touching sadness which goes right to the heart of the hearer. The scene then changes. A few wild, grotesque bars, by way of prelude, follow, and then comes one of the most extraordinary, most complicated and most powerful choruses that we have ever heard. The dancing dervishes are chanting the praise of the Arab prophet. The wild song of adoration by his frantic votaries, colored by an accompaniment as bizarre and barbaric as if written for a Tartar band, is in the key of E minor. The tenor and bass voices are in unison with the string instruments, while the brass instruments have a counterpoint of strange and weird-like combinations. The chorus commences pianissimo, gradually increasing to fortissimo as the zeal of the dervishes becomes more furious, and it reaches a climax at high F when all the voices thunder out ‘Great Prophet, hail!’ The delirium then subsides, as if nature had become exhausted, and ends in the same pianissimo strain in which it begun. The other choruses and solos are fitting exponents of Beethoven’s sublime ideas. What a pity that he should sit at his harpsichord or look on while the orchestra and chorus performed this work, and be deprived by the loss of hearing from enjoying the fruits of his labors. The soloists in the rendition of this grand work by the Mendelssohn Union at Dodworth Hall were Miss Simms, Smith and Mayer, Mrs. Holbrook and Messrs. Lewis and Ahlen. It was given in a manner worthy of Beethoven.”