COMPOSERS: Felix Mendelssohn
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 1 & 3 (Scottish)
PERFORMER: NDR Radiophilharmonie/Andrew Manze
CATALOGUE NO: PTC 5186595 (hybrid CD/SACD)
Clean playing, excellent speeds, a manageable reverberation time (around four seconds), intelligent introduction of dynamics where they are plainly lacking and sensitive phrasing with no mannered rubato: in all these respects, a thoroughly enjoyable performance. But the recording is less happy. Especially in the First Symphony, the timpani emits a booming sound that becomes really quite intrusive over time, and more especially when playing notes just above those of the bass line, producing a rather thick texture.
In both works there are several passages, too, where important ideas on violins are obscured by wind chords, interrupting that natural discourse which is so much a part of Mendelssohn’s genius, even in the First Symphony, written when he was only 15. As a final, finnicky detail, I would mention the first clarinet’s tendency not to tongue repeated notes clearly enough at the ends of phrases – a pity, because the tone is gorgeous, and the jaunty tune in the second movement of the Scottish Symphony bounces along with infectious gusto. I can’t say, though, that, for me, the recording says anything new about either work. Am I wrong to look for this? Do Mendelssohn’s symphonies leave less room than most for ‘interpretation’, bar countering his occasional reluctance to include dynamics? I only ask. More forcefully, I insist that translators of liner notes, while fluent in the source language, should always be native speakers of the target language: phrases such as ‘sophisticated tone technique’ don’t help anybody.