Classic CD: Mendelssohn

By William Dart

Mendelssohn, Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 (Harmonia Mundi).
Mendelssohn, Symphonies Nos. 3 and 4 (Harmonia Mundi).
Mendelssohn in Birmingham Vol. 4.
Mendelssohn in Birmingham Vol. 4.

It has been a few years since the Freiburg Baroque Orchestra strayed beyond the period that inspired its moniker. Indeed, after numerous distinguished recordings of Haydn, Mozart and their classical contemporaries, the German musicians moved on to the 19th century, accompanying Isabelle Faust in 2015's transcendent Schumann Violin Concerto.

Conductor Pablo Heras-Casado now takes on Mendelssohn with winning accounts of the two best-known symphonies. The Scottish Symphony, under the wrong baton, can be a sluggish affair but here it is as energised as a spring jaunt in the Highlands.

The opening andante is an invitation unable to be refused; sighing phrases and exquisitely contoured lines are born of the purest Romanticism. Period woodwind, horns and timpani make their presence felt throughout while the finale comes across as a feisty, and discreetly funky, country dance. The Italian Symphony is permeated with a Mediterranean zest for life.

The closing saltarello is so light on its feet it seems to dance at twice the speed of some other versions.

The fourth volume of Edward Gardner and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra's Mendelssohn in Birmingham couples two familiar works.

Soloist Jennifer Pike has fierce competition with the violin concerto, and her often sweet lyricism would be greatly enhanced by subtler nuancing.

While it is always a pleasure to hear the sparkling incidental music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, especially without the laboured spoken dialogue that marred the NZSO's otherwise excellent 2010 recording, Gardner might have sprinkled the fairy dust more liberally.

What might the Freiburg horns have made of the famous nocturne which, in Birmingham, sounds like a salute to Wagner's Valhalla? And those familiar with the 1994 recording of this work, with Kathleen Battle and Frederica von Stade's seductive handling of Mendelssohn's charming songs, might find young English sopranos Rhian Lois and Keri Fuge rather ordinary.

Mendelssohn, Symphonies Nos. 3 & 4
(Harmonia Mundi)

Mendelssohn, in Birmingham Vol. 4
(Chandos, both through Ode Records)

Verdict: New recordings of Mendelssohn don't always manage the magic

- Weekend magazine

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