"…The sound has remarkable little tape hiss, and is typical of the Boston recordings from this source. The strings are warm and solid, the brass not as piercing and obviously virtuostic as at Chicago, the stereo spread rather wide but without a hole in the middle, the orchestra bathed in a lush but not overresonant acoustic." ~sa-cd.net
Following his critically acclaimed recording of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No.2, Spanish conductor Pablo Heras-Casado returns with Symphonies Nos.3 and 4, this time leading the Freiburger Barockorchester. Both works have origins in the composer’s 1829- 1831 tour of Europe. Symphony No.3, sometimes called the “Scottish” symphony, was inspired by a visit to the ruined Holyrood Chapel in Edinburgh in 1829. It was not completed until 1842, making it, chronologically, the last of his five symphonies. Symphony No.4, called the “Italian” symphony, was born of the color and atmosphere of Italy, and was completed in Berlin in 1833.
‘Mendelssohn in Birmingham’ is an exciting new recording project with the CBSO and its Principal Guest Conductor, Edward Gardner. It celebrates Mendelssohn’s special relationship with the city’s Town Hall and will feature the complete symphonies recorded there. It was a venue much loved by Mendelssohn and saw him conduct many of his own works there, including premieres. ‘Mendelssohn in Birmingham’ also encompasses a major concert series at the Town Hall which will run alongside these recordings.
Admirers of Karajan will probably own most or all of these symphony cycles from what was probably the pinnacle of the conductor's prolific career. However, if you are unfamiliar with Karajan's work, or well enough acquainted with it to desire further exploration, then this amazingly inexpensive anthology can be enthusiastically recommended. I purchased all of these sets when they came out in DG's previous mid-priced "Karajan Symphony Edition," and I can testify to their consistently oustanding quality, both as performances and as interpretations. As recordings, however, it must be admitted that the sound is of variable quality; sometimes admirably vivid and well balanced, but frequently tending toward harshness, even garishness–particularly in those which come from the early digital era (cf. Bruckner's symphonies 1-3). Too bad Universal didn't see fit to give this magnificent legacy a sonic facelift. Still, the performances are sufficiently worthy of your attention to warrant purchase regardless of these sonic limitations.
Although apart from Nos. 3 and 4 Mendelssohn’s Symphonies turn up surprisingly rarely in concert programmes there are now many complete recordings from which the collector can choose. For anyone with a special interest in the composer the chance to compare the approaches of, say, Karajan, Abbado, Sawallisch and Masur may well be irresistible, and when versions by other distinguished conductors who have recorded only individual Symphonies, including Toscanini, Norrington and Gardiner, are added the choices seem endless.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the London Symphony Orchestra join forces once again in the latest instalment of their exploration of Mendelssohn’s symphonies. Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 5, commonly known as the ‘Reformation’ Symphony, was written in 1830 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Augsberg confession – a seminal event in the Protestant Reformation. Allusions to the symphony’s title and inspiration can be heard throughout the music itself; the Dresden Amen is cited by the strings in the first movement whilst the finale is based on Martin Luther’s well-known chorale Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God’). Coupled with this are two of Mendelssohn’s overtures, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage and Ruy Blas, both of which were inspired by literary works. Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, based on two short poems by Goethe, depicts the journey of sailors at sea with a still adagio opening ultimately giving way to a triumphant homecoming. Completing the album, the overture Ruy Blas was commissioned by the Leipzig Theatre as an overture to Victor Hugo’s tragic drama of the same name.