Mendelssohn: Symphonies 1 & 4 - Litton
Classical - Orchestral
Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 1 in C minor Op. 11, Symphony No. 4 in A major Op. 90 "Italian", "Ruy Blas" Overture Op. 95
Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Andrew Litton (conductor)
Mendelssohn is sometimes thought of as someone to whom composing came easily. This assumption arises partly from the fact that he was a child prodigy: he was only fifteen when he composed his First Symphony, by which time he had already written twelve string symphonies. The main reason, however, is that much of Mendelssohn's best music is so unforced, has such a natural flow, that - as Schumann once remarked - 'one entirely forgets the tangible means, the tools that he uses'.
One such work is Symphony No.4, widely known as the 'Italian' and one of Mendelssohn's most loved compositions - but also a work that seems to have caused its creator untold worries. Although it received an ecstatic welcome on its first performance in London in 1833, Mendelssohn could not bring himself to have it published, planning instead to revise it but in the end hiding it away in a drawer.
A similar fate befell the Ruy Blas overture, written for a play by Victor Hugo that, after reading it, Mendelssohn described as 'quite horrible and beneath all dignity. to an extent that you would not believe'. He was nevertheless pleased with his overture to the play - but again he would not let it be published during his lifetime, an indication of a self-criticism which hardly rhymes with the idea of him as a carefree composer.
The Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Andrew Litton began their cycle of Mendelssohn's symphonies with Symphony No.2 'Hymn of Praise'. Described as 'suitably glowing' by the reviewer in Financial Times, and 'alert and vigorous' in BBC Music Magazine, that disc is here being followed by the second instalment from the Bergen team.
Recorded in August 2007 at the Grieg Hall, Bergen, Norway, 24/44.1
Producer: Hans Kipfer (Take5 Music Production)
Sound engineer: Andreas Ruge
Equipment: Neumann microphones; RME Octamic D microphone pre-amplifier and high-resolution A/D converter; MADI optical cabling; Yamaha DM1000 digital mixer; Sequoia Workstation; Pyramix DSD Workstation; B&W Nautilus 802 loudspeakers; STAX headphones
Post-production: Editing: Piotr Furmanczyk
Mixing: Hans Kipfer
Executive producer: Robert Suff
This record has received support from the Grieg Foundation.
Review by Mark Novak - November 25, 2009
Standard repertoire. War horses. Great Music. Apply the label of your choice – it applies to the music on this recording. Mendelssohn was all of 15 years old when he penned what we now know as the Symphony No.1 in C minor, op.11. It followed on the heels of the twelfth string symphony and in fact was titled “Symphony No. XIII” on the autograph score. Fortunately, by the time it was published it was rightly called his First symphony as it is miles beyond what the string symphonies offer as delightful as some of those are. Though the key is C minor, this is in no way van Beethoven’s world of C minor. The symphony No.1 is an ebullient and happy work at its core with a few storm clouds peaking through every now and then. I have not been a huge of a fan of Andrew Litton’s conducting but I find his efforts here to be more energized than usual (that’s a good thing in this repertoire in my opinion). I really have no substantive criticism of his conducting of either of these two symphonies though there is lots of competition and some who are Mendelssohn devotees may want to sample this SACD to see if it meets your needs.
The Symphony No.4 in A, Op.90 was actually written before the one we know today as the Third symphony but wasn’t published until after his death. According to the excellent notes accompanying this SACD, Mendelssohn had referred to this symphony as “the Italian” having been motivated by his travels to Italy but that label never made it to the published version of the score. It was a score that the composer wanted to return to in order to make changes and adjustments but which he never actually realized before his death. Hence, it can be considered his “unfinished” symphony. Hearing it from this vantage point of history, one wonders what Mendelssohn might have changed – it’s a near-perfect work as it is. Again, Litton and the Bergen Philharmonic do many good things here. I hear a little bit of time-keeping towards the end of the second movement but not enough to crumble the mood. The con moto moderato third movement is taken just a bit slower than I’d like thereby missing a little of the drama. Really just nit-picking here. Overall, these are good performances. Lastly, the SACD kick’s off with the Ruy Blas Overture, which is a nice opening salvo for the symphonies.
Sound is very good – kudo’s to Andreas Ruge who has captured an excellent balance between direct and ambient sound in the Grieg Hall in Bergen though the sound does lack a bit of impact in the big moments of these scores. Looking forward to the completion of this symphony series coupling numbers three and five which has recently been announced by BIS. Recommended.
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