Mendelssohn’s Symphony No. 2 conducted by John Eliot Gardiner

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn
WORKS: Symphony No. 2
PERFORMER: Lucy Crowe (soprano), Jurgita Adamonytė (mezzo), Michael Spyres (tenor); Monteverdi Choir; LSO/ John Eliot Gardiner
CATALOGUE NO: LSO 0803 (Blu-ray & hybrid CD/ SACD)


This work has had a mixed press over the years: Schumann was impressed by Mendelssohn’s imagination, ‘especially in the parts where the chorus predominates’, but Tovey damned the opening of the Adagio religioso as ‘the origin of almost all that is sickly in English church music’. For me, the three initial orchestral movements are on the dull side, but things perk up to some extent with the vocal entries. The Monteverdi Singers produce, as ever, a clean, well-focused tone and there is much pleasure to be had in Lucy Crowe’s radiant soprano and Michael Spyres’s lyrical tenor, making the most of the arias that Mendelssohn added after the first performance.

The evidence seems to be that the orchestral movements had been planned by 1838 for a Symphony in B flat, but that Mendelssohn then added the choral movements when commissioned to write music for the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of printing – perhaps not much of an inspiration compared with Fingal’s Cave or Shakespeare’s fairies ? I can’t help remembering Berlioz’s comment that Mendelssohn was overly fond of fugal stuff, of which there’s quite a lot here, much of it derived from the work’s opening fanfare, and at times it does become a touch predictable despite rhythmic vigour from all concerned.

My only query over the performance concerns two unduly leisurely tempos, for the Allegretto un poco agitato and the soprano’s Lobe den Herrn, for which Mendelssohn requests some ‘fuoco’: reducing his crotchet beat from 104 to 70 does rather dowse the flame.


Roger Nichols