Mendelssohn: Symphonies No. 3 (Scottish); No. 4 (Italian)

COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Supraphon
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn
WORKS: Symphonies No. 3 (Scottish); No. 4 (Italian)
PERFORMER: Prague Philharmonia/Jiri Bélohlavek
You have only to hear these symphonies performed lovingly, and with fresh understanding, to realise what marvels they are. Thanks partly to the beauty of the Prague Philharmonia woodwind playing, lovely touches of orchestration leap off the page again and again: the gently overlapping flutes in the Italian’s second movement are one good example. B?lohlávek also finds the drive and agility this music needs: the Saltarello finale of the Italian Symphony races forward, but the rhythms remain clear and focussed. Granted, Bélohlávek could have made more of the striking contrasts at the start of the Scottish, and in the triumphal major-key theme at the end of the Symphony’s finale he follows tradition in taking it a fair bit slower than Mendelssohn’ marking, adding weight to what ought to be buoyant song rather than a hymn. These are minor criticisms though, especially when the overall impression is so positive. Claudio Abbado with the London Symphony Orchestra remain close to ideal in both symphonies; but for vitality, elegance and imaginative flair, these performances run them close. Good recordings too. Stephen Johnson