Mendelssohn – Symphonies Nos. 3 & 5

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: BIS
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 3 (Scottish) & 5 (Reformation)
PERFORMER: Bergen PO/Andrew Litton
CATALOGUE NO: BIS SACD-1604 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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This third and final disc in this series is in every way up to the high standard of its predecessors: the same wide dynamic range, eloquent phrasing and attention to detail, always with an ear for its contribution to the larger picture.

Beyond this blanket praise, two interpretative moments stand out. The start of the Allegro maestoso at the end of the Scottish Symphony is undoubtedly a difficult moment to manage: the sudden arrival of the major mode and the rumbustuous 6/8 rhythm can so easily sound trite and irrelevant. Andrew Litton, by giving full value to the fading, almost collapsing nature of the preceding bars, allows us to hear this major ending as consolation and resolution. 

The Reformation Symphony, too, can have its problems, chiefly a tendency towards stiffness and academicism that the Paris Conservatoire Orchestra seized on in refusing to give the work what would have been its premiere. Not only does Litton turn these limitations into virtues (stiffness becomes strength, academicism becomes technical wizardry and a source of delight), he incorporates them into an overall view of the Symphony.

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The brief Andante can seem no more than a curious interruption. But Litton presents it as an operatic scena complete with affecting, though discreet, rubato. This not only adds to its emotional weight, it gives the whole work a strict-free-strict pattern that is wholly convincing. It’s easy to see why any orchestra would play its heart out for a conductor of such musical intelligence. Roger Nichols