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Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 2 - Gardiner

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 2 - Gardiner

LSO Live  LSO0803 (2 discs)

Stereo/Multichannel Hybrid

Classical - Vocal


Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 2

Lucy Crowe (soprano)
Jurgita Adamonytė (mezzo)
Michael Spyres (tenor)
Monteverdi Choir
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)


Bringing his acclaimed Mendelssohn cycle to a rousing conclusion, John Eliot Gardiner presents the composer's symphony-cantata, Lobgesang. Mendelssohn wrote that the piece 'lies very near my heart', and with its stately grandeur and religiosity, plus its sheer magnitude – double the length of any of his other symphonies – it stands amongst his most impressive works. Posthumously categorised by editors as the composer’s second symphony, it is also known as a 'song of praise' and three talented soloists join the LSO and the world-class Monteverdi Choir for this recording.

While Gardiner is well-versed in the German’s output, this release documents his first performance of the work. In an interview for The Arts Desk, he said: 'It's a piece I've been looking at for years, and I've never conducted it. I was a bit sceptical at first, thinking that it was the torso of a symphony with a cantata bolted on. But it isn't. It’s a delight. It has a lot of the inventiveness and sheer melodic flow of the young Mendelssohn and it’s perfectly calibrated and constructed.'

This is the perfect end to an exploration of a composer whose music known the world over, but also has so much more to offer. Summing up his feelings at the end of the project, Gardiner said: 'My admiration for Mendelssohn has gone up enormously, as a result of really digging deep into these symphonies...it's so rewarding with this group of players, they’re willing to go to the last nth degree, in terms of detail of phrasing and articulation, and that’s a joy.'

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Review by Graham Williams - August 14, 2017

Sir John Eliot Gardiner's riveting survey of Mendelssohn's orchestral works with the London Symphony Orchestra (the 5 Symphonies, Overtures and the Incidental Music to A Midsummer Night's Dream) has yielded some of the most compelling releases on the LSO Live label in the past few years. It now reaches a triumphant conclusion with this magisterial account of the Symphony No. 2 (Lobesgesang) taken from two concerts at the Barbican given on 16th and 20th of October 2016.

Presented as a two-disc package that includes not only a hybrid SACD (2.0 stereo and 5.1 multi-channel mixes) but also a Pure Audio Blu-ray disc (5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio 24 bit / 192 kHz & 2.0 LPCM 24 bit / 192 kHz). The latter 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 WAV 320 kbps MP3. Full texts in German and English are included in the liner notes.

Each of the opening three movements of the orchestral Sinfonia that open the work are beautifully paced by Gardiner. The first marked 'Maestoso con moto' is celebratory but never over exuberant thanks to Gardiner's careful shaping and firm control of the musical discourse. The second – a swift waltz – is played with a lightness and delicacy that typifies the excellence of the LSO players, while the conductor ensures that the moving and richly melodic 'Adagio religioso' that follows is free of any trace of saccharine sentimentality. Gardiner's characteristic antiphonal seating of the violins (playing with little or no vibrato) adds to the overall clarity of the textures.

The remaining two thirds of Mendelssohn's Symphony-Cantata introduces the chorus and three soloists (two sopranos and a tenor). It is here that Gardiner has his trump card – the wonderful Monteverdi Choir – whose contribution is in all respects quite outstanding. The security of intonation, crisp attack and superb diction of this 44 strong chorus are always in evidence, whether in the 'a capella' first statement of the Lutheran chorale 'Nun danket alle Gott' (Tr.12) or the blazing final fugue (Tr. 15). There is little doubt that this committed choir is able to deliver with ease both the weight and power of a larger chorus and the clarity and accuracy of a smaller one.

Gardiner is equally fortunate in his fine line-up of chosen soloists. The pure and silvery voices of Lucy Crowe and Jurgita Adamonyté blend beguilingly in the duet 'Ich harrete des Herrn' (Tr. 9) bringing an ethereal quality and sense of blissful repose to this enchanting devotional movement.
The tenor Michael Spyres is particularly impressive; singing with great sensitivity and unforced tone. His excellent diction and feeling for the words allows him to express a wide range of emotions, while his voice has the necessary heft to make the repeated question 'Hüter, ist die Nacht bald hin?' (Tr. 10) a memorable moment of spine-tingling drama.

The team from Classic Sound Ltd. have ensured that the recording (DSD 128fs) does full justice to the performance and those who have one or more of the four earlier issues will need little urging to acquire this splendid release.

Sir John has confessed that he had never conducted this work before, which may be why his new found enthusiasm for it – clearly communicated to the ever responsive LSO – has yielded such a powerful and uplifting account of one Mendelssohn's most striking and original compositions.

Highly recommended.

Copyright © 2017 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net

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Comment by Luketsu - August 5, 2017 (1 of 5)

Now it is complete; better than Litton (BIS) or de Vriend (Challenge) I think Gardiner's Mendelssohn cycle is the best to have ever released in hi-res. Few weeks ago I ordered the album in advance directly at LSO Live online store. And don't forget - box set will follow... (;

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - August 9, 2017 (2 of 5)

Hi Luketsu,
As the album is not released yet(According to the LSO site it won't be released until the first of September), how and where have you been able to listen to it? . Was it in high resolution?

Comment by Luketsu - August 9, 2017 (3 of 5)

Hi Adrian,

I haven't listened to this in hi-res or wholly; Apple Music offers some short sound samples as well as Presto Classical. My thoughts based on the samples as well as previous albums to the series. LSO has released an interesting trailer on YouTube, I recommend to watch it.

Comment by hiredfox - August 19, 2017 (4 of 5)

I agree with Luketsu about the quality of performances of this survey. Mendelssohn like Schumann is difficult to master and many recorded performances lack insight and character and can sound turgid and uninvolving. Gardiner adopted some interesting choices during live performance of these symphonies most noticeably having many of his players stand up rather than sit down. It is probabl the set to have on SACD.

Comment by Adrian Quanjer - August 19, 2017 (5 of 5)

Hi John,
Which are the ones you find uninvolving? Have you heard this one; Kammerchor Stuttgart Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen Frieder Bernius (conductor). I like it. Besides, I find that in principle German texts are best sung by Germans. Don't get me wrong, I hold Gardiner in high regard and from Graham's review I suppose that you are right. But hearing is believing. In the past LSO live recording quality was not amoungst the best.