Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 5 (Reformation)

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: RCA Victor Red Seal
WORKS: Symphony No. 1; Symphony No. 5 (Reformation)
PERFORMER: Bamberg SO/Claus Peter Flor
CATALOGUE NO: 09026 60391 2 DDD
These fine, not-quite-mature symphonies have more in common with each other than with the better-known Scottish and Italian – the Fifth is actually earlier than either. Here they share just the right approach to show them at their strongest: plenty of affection and intelligence, no inflated pretensions or hyped-up excitement, just good traditional polished German playing. The spacious, resonant sound and warmly shaped phrases that open No. 5 amount to a promise amply fulfilled in an unhurried but still fiery Allegro, and through a slow movement like a song without words that briefly thrusts deeper at the end to push the music over into a vigorous finale, moving urgently forward so that the eventual chorale is a real arrival rather than a formality.

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No. 1 swings between an evident devotion to Mozart’s great G minor Symphony and touches of high originality: the dramatic false alarms that bring the first movement to an unexpectedly intense climax, the tense hush as Trio reverts to Minuet (or rather not-quite-Scherzo), the plucked chords that stalk around the finale’s solo clarinet tune. Vitality without haste is again the performance’s chief joy. Robert Maycock