Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 2 (Lobesang)

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Naxos
WORKS: Symphony No. 2 (Lobgesang)
PERFORMER: Ruth Ziesak, Mojca Erdmann (soprano), Christian Elsner (tenor); MDR Radio Choir; MDR Symphony Orchestra/ Jun Märkl
CATALOGUE NO: 8.572294

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Mendelssohn had his doubts about Beethoven’s Choral Symphony, and Schumann admitted (to Wagner) that the speed at which Mendelssohn conducted the first movement ruined the work for him too. Obviously Mendelssohn felt that speed was not the enemy of moral weight. It would therefore seem wise for a conductor to adhere to the fairly brisk tempo markings on Mendelssohn’s own choral symphony.

This Jun Märkl does not do, and the result is an interpretation that at times lacks energy, and even makes the music’s frequent repetitions, whether strict or varied, sound a little laboured – certainly there is nothing agitato about the G minor section of the opening sinfonia.

That the composer’s tempos can be made to work has been proved by Andrew Litton’s recording on BIS, and Litton is also careful to observe Mendelssohn’s string phrasing: in the sinfonia short phrases are contrasted with longer ones, and Märkl’s more traditional smoothing out of this distinction makes the argument less arresting. Litton scores, too, in his tense, punchy dotted rhythms here.

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This said, Märkl’s version has many beauties, not least the duet before the final chorus which Ruth Ziesak and Christian Elsner sing with great tenderness. Elsner does not quite possess the lyricism of Christophe Prégardien on the BIS version, but his more forthright interpretation in his solos is no less convincing. The chorus sing with gusto, and their final hymn of praise is triumphant and exciting. All in all a perfectly acceptable recording, lacking only that ultimate spark that Litton brings to his. Roger Nichols