Pablo Heras-Casado conducts Mendelssohn Symphonies Nos 3 & 4

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COMPOSERS: Felix Mendelssohn
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Felix Mendelssohn
WORKS: Symphonies Nos 3 & 4
PERFORMER: Freiburger Barockorchester/Pablo Heras-Casado
CATALOGUE NO: Harmonia Mundi HMC 902228

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I always thought it would be difficult to make Mendelssohn’s music sound ugly, but now I know better (or worse). The Third Symphony suffers a good deal more than the Fourth: from thin, acidulous violins (yes, Mendelssohn’s fiddles would also have played without vibrato, but François-Xavier Roth and Les Siècles have proved that our teeth don’t have to be set on edge), from correspondingly brass- and woodwind-weighted textures at climaxes, not helped by a rather close recording, from a drummer who may possibly have spent time watching the Muppets, and from wayward tempos. Pablo Heras-Casado is not alone, unfortunately, in trying to wring the last drop of passion out of the opening paragraph of the first movement, but this is blatantly to ignore the composer’s Andante con moto, together with a marking of crotchet=72, not 56 as here. As for the tone of the violins’ initial sforzando A…

The Fourth Symphony, in general more lightly scored, comes off better, though there’s a nasty tempo bump between the third movement trio and the return of the opening material, and in the final Saltarello the strings give more scrub than pitch. In general I admit to being confused over the intention in all this. Billed as a Baroque orchestra, they are said to be playing period instruments – in 19th-century symphonies? Or are the instruments 19th-century ones? Nothing in the notes enlightens us.

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Roger Nichols