Doyen of baroque bands Freiburger Barockorchester continues to explore the music of Mendelssohn, following last year's zesty recording of his Italian and Scottish symphonies.
Now it couples two of the German composer's most popular works with one of his most maligned.

The striking cover says it all. There's no avoiding the piercing eyes of conductor Pablo Heras-Casado and violinist Isabelle Faust, challenging us to experience their revelatory take on one of the world's most popular violin concertos.

When Faust played the Mendelssohn concerto with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra two years ago, she seemed wary of the expected so she wooed us with unassuming sweetness in the Andante and had no fear of venturing into the gruff zone in a particularly earthy finale.

On disc, it's even more startling. Playing with musicians noted for stylistic authenticity, her gut strings and minimal vibrato make the music breathe with a fresh air buoyancy.
You may find yourself leaning forward, drawn into the very heart of the first movement cadenza; or shivering with delight at the bewitching glissandi of the Andante and thrilling at the sonic storms of a tempestuous finale.

Advertisement

The Hebrides Overture has its surprises, too. If Wagner was correct in hailing it as a masterpiece of landscape painting, then here it has undergone a major restoration where the musical palette shines anew. Check out that marvellous moment when time itself seems to pause, as the clarinets luxuriate in one of the composer's most beguiling melodies.

The Reformation Symphony is far from first-rank Mendelssohn and only a very simpatico performance can illuminate these too often uninspired pages.

Freiburger Barockorchester achieves wonders with an impossible task, from the organ-like swell of its launching to an innocent Allegro vivace that might be looking wistfully over the Alps to sunny Italy.

What: Mendelssohn, Violin Concerto & Symphony No.5 (Harmonia Mundi, through Ode Records)
Rating: 4/5
Verdict: Violinist and baroque band give Mendelssohn a memorable makeover