Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 2 in B flat

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Preiser Records
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 in B flat
PERFORMER: Christiane Oelze, Simona Saturová (soprano), Ian Bostridge (tenor); Tonkünstler-Orchestra of Lower Austria/Andrés Orozco-Estrada
CATALOGUE NO: PR 90796 (hybrid CD/SACD)


 No longer decried as a musty relic that suffered from over-exposure during the Victorian era, Mendelssohn’s Symphony-Cantata seems to be undergoing a remarkable revival in popularity. This is the third SACD recording to have appeared in the past two years, and the current catalogue boasts at least another ten alternatives. Music of such clarity and focus benefits from the adrenaline and immediacy of a public performance, so it’s hardly surprising that this new release should have been recorded at a concert in Vienna’s Musikverein in October 2010.

Roger Nichols has already assessed the respective merits of the two pre-existing SACD versions in these pages (August 2009), marginally preferring Andrew Litton’s overtly Romantic approach on BIS to the transparent period performance sonorities favoured by Frieder Bernius on Carus. Both performances strike me as offering more involving musical experiences than the rather mixed impact of the present release. On the plus side, there’s no doubt that the plush acoustics of the Musikverein are admirably suited to the epic scale of the music. The Tonkünstler-Orchester delivers a vigorously articulated opening Allegro and Orozco-Estrada shapes the Adagio religioso with great depth of feeling. Tenor soloist Ian Bostridge sings with passion in both his arias although, in contrast, the soprano duet ‘Ich harrete des Herrn’ is curiously stolid. 
The major disadvantage remains the rather backward placing of the chorus which makes it difficult to hear the words when both choir and orchestra are in full sway, a balance flaw that is never in evidence during the thrillingly recorded Litton version. Earlier in the work, Orzoco-Estrada ignores Mendelssohn’s animato markings in the first movement and takes a too leisurely view of the Allegretto, failing to convey the composer’s prescribed ‘un poco agitato’. Erik Levi