Mendelssohn in Birmingham, Vol 2 - Gardner
Chandos CHSA 5139
Classical - Orchestral
Mendelssohn: Symphonies 1 & 3; Ruy Blas Overture, Op. 95
City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra
Edward Gardner and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra present Volume 2 in their series Mendelssohn in Birmingham; this time they perform Symphonies Nos 1 and 3 and the Overture to Ruy Blas. The impressive first volume was roundly praised, International Record Review commending the ‘powerfully engaging and alert performances’, while The Sunday Times made it their ‘Album of the Week’.
Among the fruits of his prodigiously gifted youth were thirteen string symphonies, which Mendelssohn composed privately as ‘practice’ pieces. At age fifteen he returned to the last of these, expanded the orchestration, and published it as the first of his mature numbered symphonies. As heard here, this energetic work, bursting with youthful high spirits, shows the influence of Mozart, Beethoven, and Weber, but that influence is always absorbed in a personal way.
Although numbered as the third of five, the ‘Scottish’ Symphony was actually the last which Mendelssohn composed. Inspiration for it had come while Mendelssohn was visiting Edinburgh in 1829. He was immediately moved to compose the brooding melody that begins and ends the work, but not until 1842 did he actually finish this masterpiece.
No such time span was needed to complete the Overture to Victor Hugo’s tragedy Ruy Blas, which was commissioned only three days before the production’s opening night. Mendelssohn loathed Hugo’s drama and though the opening is suitably sombre, the rest of the overture disregards the play’s form and character, concluding in celebration where Hugo’s story culminates in murder and suicide.
Recorded 25 and 26 October 2013 (Symphonies Nos. 1 and 3) and on 16 February 2014 (Overture to Ruy Blas), 24/96
Recording producer: Brian Pidgeon
Sound engineer: Ralph Couzens
Assistant engineer: Jonathan Cooper
Editor: Jonathan Cooper
Artist & Repertoire administrator: Sue Shortridge
Microphones: Thuresson CM 402 (main sound); Schoeps MK22 / MK4 / MK6; DPA 4006 & 4011; Neumann U89
CM 402 microphones are hand built by the designer, Jörgen Thuresson, in Sweden.
Review by Graham Williams - August 23, 2014
The second volume of Edward Gardner's “Mendelssohn in Birmingham” cycle with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra follows the same pattern as the previous issue – two Symphonies preceded by an Overture. Here it is the fine Overture to “Ruy Blas” that opens Gardner's programme in an alert and winning performance. This is followed by, in order of composition, Mendelssohn's first and last mature Symphonies.
Symphony No. 1 in C minor is in fact the final one of the composer's 13 symphonies for strings that at the age of 15 he scored for a full orchestra and published in 1831 . It is a marvellously confident work that demonstrates the young Mendelssohn's prodigious compositional gifts. One can only imagine that its comparative neglect in the concert hall is partly due to the absence of a sobriquet unlike each of the other four symphonies. Gardner's beautifully paced account of this work will make it many new friends, and one's only regret is that its clarity would have been further improved by antiphonal seating of the violins – especially in the fugal passages of the Symphony's finale. This is something that Mendelssohn certainly would have expected, but which Gardner unfortunately eschews.
Gardner's straightforward account of Symphony No. 3 'Scottish', whilst not especially distinctive, does not disappoint. The abundant charm of the music is never in doubt in Gardner's performance. Melodies are elegantly shaped and the playing of the CBSO is incisive with plenty of rhythmic vigour especially in the finale. Bayan Northcott's informative liner notes state that Mendelssohn was insistent that the four movements should follow each other without a break, but here we have the usual few seconds break between them.
The sound quality matches that of the earlier issue which is hardly surprising as both symphonies were recorded at sessions within a couple of days of those on Volume 1. Though the rather over reverberant acoustic of Birmingham Town Hall gives an occasional and unwelcome steely edge to the violins there is a generally pleasing bloom to the sound – enhanced for those listening to the multichannel layer by further ambient information. Wind, brass and timpani are exceptionally clear and vividly reproduced .
Competition on disc in these works is intense, but those collecting Gardner's Mendelssohn series will be unlikely to be disappointed with this release.
Copyright © 2014 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net