Mendelssohn: Symphonies 3 & 4 - Holliger
MDG Scene 901 1663-6
Classical - Orchestral
Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy: Symphony No. 3 "The Scottish", Symphony No. 4 "The Italian"
Shimmeringly, spiritedly, and with an ear for facility and finesse – it is thus that the Musikkollegium Winterthur conducted by Heinz Holliger travels with Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy on his educational tours. The star conductor and the renowned chamber orchestra present the Scottish and the Italian Symphony, the latter in the version revised by the composer during 1833-34.
The idea for the Italian Symphony ripened under the southern sun. Mendelssohn composed it with ease. It was first after its successful premiere in London that he became self-critical about it. He spontaneously reworked the second to fourth movements but then set aside the manuscript – which meant that it was the first version that was printed and transmitted after his death. “The first version is illegal. Mendelssohn would never have authorized it in this form,” Holliger provocatively states in the booklet text, while at the same time offering a highly inspired presentation of Mendelssohn’s sound world.
The state of the sources for the Third Symphony is much clearer. Although thirteen years passed between Mendelssohn’s Scottish journey and the symphony’s premiere, with the composer in the meantime working to bring it to final perfection, different versions of it are no longer extant. It is already remarkable how Mendelssohn enables the listeners to experience impressive spatial effects with the most highly varied dynamics of the individual orchestral groups. On this recording MDG’s 2+2+2 sound technique reinforces this sound picture and produces fascinatingly vivid and genuine audio imaging of the Winterthur Concert Hall.
Heinz Holliger and the Musikkollegium Winterthur have been performing together for more than three decades: “The great advantage is the openness and flexibility to assume completely uncustomary tasks.” And our audio impression confirms this: the horn sound is rich in overtones, the strings refrain from vibrato, and the timpani boom with enthusiasm from the loud speakers – in what is pure listening pleasure.
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Review by John Broggio - August 28, 2011
A wonderful breath of fresh air in so many ways.
Amongst modern recordings on SACD, only Mendelssohn: Symphonies 3 & 5 - Litton comes close in the Scottish symphony - but Litton's vision is on an altogether grander scale, using a full symphony orchestra instead of the chamber forces used here. With faster speeds than usual and divided violins, Holliger presents a much more "youthful" account - there is just a little extra spring to the rhythms that makes the whole enterprise come ecstatically to life. The speeds are never rushed, yet they clearly follow Clara Schumann's instruction to "take delight in fast tempos" that is spoken of in the illuminating interview with Holliger that forms the vast majority of the notes - and it is an unusually perceptive and valuable interview, not in the least fawning. Other important points that are made by Holliger are the use of vibrato in strings more sparingly than usual, the polyphonic aspects of the scores made clearer by careful use of dynamics by Mendelssohn - definitely reflected in the balancing in this account, all to the benefit of the music & the listener.
However fine this Scottish is, the jewel of this disc has to be the Italian symphony in its revised version of 1833/1834, rather the commonly heard first published version. Naturally the revisions of the 2nd, 3rd & 4th movements form a significant part of the interview & Holliger makes the following statements:
- The previous version of the Fourth Symphony is absolutely illegal. Mendelssohn would never have authorised it in this form.
- He combines the melodies contrapuntally with quite different secondary parts.
- And then the music sounds much more modern when the flutes play more dissonant obbligati. [2nd mvt]
And together with some other easily identifiable differences, this forms the essential contrast between the two performing versions - the melodies are all there (although sometimes undecorated or decorated in very different ways) but with sometimes radically different accompaniments. The revised version, in such winning & sunny performances as this, at no times suffers by comparison to the more commonly known version. It is difficult to stress in the first movement, how fresh these musicians make the score sound - the mere thought of hearing it played like this makes the soul smile in anticipation! (The remaining movements are no less winningly performed.)
Throughout the Musikkollegium Winterthur play delightfully and it is not for nothing that Holliger compares them (favourably) to the Chamber Orchestra of Europe & the Mahler Chamber Orchestra! This is timeless playing that brings a smile every time the most innocuous of phrases starts. As Holliger puts it "Mendelssohn requires a great measure of virtuosity and a light, transparent sound. His music tolerates neither maudlin sentimentality nor bombast" - unusually, Holliger practices what he preaches and the listener is all the happier for it! Most encouragingly, the notes contain a hint that more Mendelssohn from Holliger may be coming (including the wonderful Die Erste Walpurghisnacht, a complete Midsummer Night's Dream and some overtures); if so, I can hardly wait!
The sound is at one with the performances and must be one of MDG's most natural sounding recordings yet presented.
Enthusiastically recommended to brush aside any dark corners of the mind - enjoy (many times)!
Copyright © 2011 John Broggio and HRAudio.net
Review by Adrian Quanjer - February 19, 2012
Of late we have seen numerous ‘original’ versions, i.e. versions stripped of later add-ons, appear on disk. They make for interesting fare. I think most of us have, in real life, experienced that first thoughts are usually not the worst. But in order to include more details we start tinkering with texts until they become too complicated and hence unreadable. Composers, or worst, friends of composers, frequently make suggestions as to make a piece more ‘listenable’ or ‘playable’. When a piece is not well received by the public some composers are tempted to tamper with it; and prospective soloist make suggestions such as to get their part within their technical grasp.
Here we have the opposite: Not the first version of the fourth symphony, but rather the second is the real one. Judging by the convincing quality of Holliger’s liner notes and the insight he clearly has in Mendelssohn’s oeuvre, I am prepared to go along with that. One could perhaps argue that the second version is, in fact, his first and only, as he had not altogether finished with it.
But for the listener the real test is: how does it sound. And here I would like to distinguish between the music and the sound. As for the music and the quality of playing, I concur with Polly Nomial’s appraisal. No need, therefore, to further dwell on that aspect.
But as far as the sound, or rather the recording, is concerned, I had a problem. I was confronted with a thin and ‘bottomless’ sound picture. I do not know whether that is a result of MDG’s 2x2x2 recording practice (I have noted that before in their recording of the two Mendelssohn’s piano concerti) or just a one off in this particular disk. I had to readjust my subwoofer, twice as loud, and lift the frequency fall-off at around 65Hz. (My subwoofer takes it’s ‘neutrik speakon’ input from the front speakers and not the LFE).
Suddenly I had the full orchestral sound in my room and the music became round and lively. What a difference! A positive fact is that the recording has no spurious low end noise whatsoever, like a number of other recordings. This is important when having to turn up the subwoofer.
Prospective buyers, who are not able to adjust the bottom end, should be aware of that. If that is no problem, than this version is a must for all Mendelssohn lovers.
Copyright © 2012 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net