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Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 - Gardiner

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 - Gardiner

LSO Live  LSO 0775

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Orchestral


Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 "Reformation"; Ruy Blas, overture; Meeresstille und glückliche Fahrt (Calm seas & prosperous voyage), overture

London Symphony Orchestra
Sir John Eliot Gardiner


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.

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Review by Graham Williams - May 16, 2015

Sir John Elliot Gardiner's survey of the Mendelssohn Symphonies recorded in concert with the London Symphony Orchestra began with finely executed, not to say revelatory, performances of the composer's 3rd Symphony and Hebrides Overture. That disc also included a generous bonus of the Schumann Piano Concerto and video footage of the concert.

The first item on this latest release is the Overture 'Ruy Blas' given a magnificently invigorating performance thanks to the vitality and crispness of the playing that Gardner elicits from the LSO – heard here at their considerable best. The conductor's devotion to period performance style is clear in the opening section of the Overture 'Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage' that follows, where the vibrato-less strings magically create the atmosphere of a calm sea. The driving allegro section is urgent and exciting thanks not only to Gardiner's propulsive tempo but also the incisive brass and timpani played with hard sticks.

Mendelssohn's 5th Symphony 'Reformation' is actually his second for full orchestra, pre-dating the more popular 'Scottish', 'Italian' and 'Lobgesang' symphonies. Gardiner moulds the solemn opening 'Andante' with great majesty and the first quiet appearance of the 'Dresden Amen' is breathtaking while the stormy 'Allegro con fuoco', often thought to represent the struggle between the old (Catholic) and new ( Lutheran) faith has a driving energy that few other conductors can match in this work. This is also true of the graceful Scherzo, thanks to the remarkable precision of the LSO winds, while Gardiner brings a smiling insouciance to the trio section. The short third movement is played with a disarming simplicity (that includes a touch of portamento at 0.39) and the finale, during the course of which Mendelssohn introduces the Lutheran chorale 'Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott', is both majestic and triumphant.

The sound quality on both the SACD and the Blu-ray discs is some of the best I have heard from this source. It is quite closely miked, but thanks to Gardiner's antiphonal positioning of the violins, details are heard that many other versions fail to capture.

As before the package here includes not only a hybrid SACD (2.0 stereo and 5.1 multi-channel mixes) but a Pure Audio Blu-ray disc (5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio 24 bit / 192 kHz & 2.0 LPCM 24 bit / 192 kHz). Though this time there is no video footage, the disc also contains downloadable digital files. With a Blu-ray player connected to a home network users can access the player via a web browser and using the mShuttle technology provided, download the files from the Blu-ray disc to a home computer. The digital file formats provided on this disc are:

Stereo files in DSD / 24 bit 96 kHz FLAC / 16 bit 44.1 kHz and W AV 320 kbps MP3.
More information on mShuttle technology can be found at www.pureaudio-bluray.com/mshuttle.

This generous, one might also say profligate, use of the technology is in marked contrast to the rather short total playing time of 47' 09”. Nevertheless, the outstanding quality of Gardiner's performances more than compensate for this, although the absence of the visual element this time is a shame; particularly as the orchestral line-up includes an ophicleide and a serpent – two instruments rarely seen in concerts today.

Very highly recommended.

Copyright © 2015 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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