Mendelssohn: Symphonies 1 & 4 - Gardiner
LSO Live LSO0769 (2 discs)
Classical - Orchestral
Mendelssohn: Symphonies 1 & 4
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir John Eliot Gardiner (conductor)
Constantly in the vanguard of enlightened interpretation, Sir John Eliot Gardiner stands as a leader in today’s musical life. His award-winning Mendelssohn cycle on LSO Live showcases his period performance expertise, the musicians standing to play, highlighting their individual musicianship. As Gardiner explains: ‘It gives a different type of dynamism and energy... it means that the fiddles are freer in the way that they attack the extremely virtuosic lines and it gives a tremendous sense of occasion to the music making.’
Dramatic and harmonically adventurous, Mendelssohn’s First Symphony is presented here in an exceptionally unique format, with both the original and revised versions of the third movement. As Gardiner said when introducing the work in concert:
‘It’s not every evening that you get to hear a symphony by a fourteen-and-a-half year-old genius and there’s an intriguing complication to this piece. When Mendelssohn came to London in 1829, he performed the symphony and he wrote back to his parents saying: “well, I looked over my symphony and, lord, the minuet bored me to tears! So what I did was to take the scherzo from my Octet and I added a few airy trumpets and it sounded lovely.” Well, actually he did an awful lot more than that; he re-orchestrated absolutely brilliantly. And it’s so good, we thought you should hear that version. But what about the minuet and trio? Why, when he came to publish the symphony did he use that version and leave out the scherzo? I happen to think they’re both really remarkable, as is the whole symphony, and perhaps you’d let us know which you prefer...?’
The Fourth Symphony is inspired by the sights, sounds and atmosphere of Italy and is among the best loved of all the composer’s works. Mendelssohn described it as: ‘the jolliest piece I’ve written so far.’ John Eliot Gardiner says of the work: ‘Mendelssohn threw everything, in terms of virtuosity and risk-taking, at the Italian Symphony and it’s remained incredibly popular...
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Review by Graham Williams - September 7, 2016
The first two issues in Sir John Eliot Gardiner's ongoing cycle of the Mendelssohn Symphonies with the London Symphony Orchestra placed them at a stroke into the top echelon of the most recommendable versions of these justifiably venerated and much recorded works. This coupling of the composer's 1st and 4th Symphonies confirms without doubt that position.
Sir John's pre-eminence in the field of historically informed style is well known from his many recordings with the Orchestre Revolutionnaire et Romantique and the English Baroque Soloists. Here he brilliantly imparts his expertise to the responsive players of the LSO with predictably exciting results. As is to be expected the violins are antiphonally divided, the strings use little or no vibrato and the timpani is played with hard sticks. What is not apparent in an audio only release is that in all the concerts of this cycle from which these recordings are taken the violin and viola sections play standing up. Gardiner believes that this gives the players a freedom that translates into a different type of dynamism and energy in the performances. What they feel about this we don't know, but the results, in the vivid accounts of both symphonies, are clear to hear.
The 1st Symphony of the 15-year-old Mendelssohn – premiered in Berlin in 1824 – receives an urgent and fiery rendition that makes one wonder why it is not heard more often. The virtuosity of the LSO on top form thrills, as does the impact of Antoine Bedewi's timpani in the symphony's outer movements – but there is more. When the composer came to London in 1829 to conduct the work's London premiere in 1829 Mendelssohn wrote to his parents:
“ Well, I looked over my symphony and – Lord! – the Minuet bored me to tears, and it was so monotonous and pleonastic. So what I did was to take the Scherzo from my Octet for strings and I added a few airy trumpets, and it sounded absolutely lovely”.
In fact Mendelssohn added wind parts as well and Gardiner includes both the original and the 1829 versions of the third movement on this recording, allowing listeners to decide which one they prefer.
The account of the 'Italian' Symphony is equally thrilling; fast in the outer movements, but allowing for beautifully turned woodwind playing in both the central 'Andante con moto' and 'Minuetto'. Naturally the essential first movement repeat is observed, and as in the previous work this conductor's seating of the LSO pays dividends in clarity and precise articulation. The final Salterello is a tour de force of virtuosity and one is left marvelling at the exceptional way Gardiner is able to galvanize these musicians to deliver exactly what he requires.
As is the case with the previous releases 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). 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 WAV 320 kbps MP3.
Unlike many recordings from this venue, the sound quality in both formats is very impressive, making Gardiner's electrifying performances unmissable.
Copyright © 2016 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net
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Comment by hiredfox - September 12, 2016 (1 of 4)
Having the players stand with the concomitant removal of chairs and so on has clearly improved the Barbican Hall acoustic as far fetched as that may seem, these are some of the best LSO Live discs yet from that point of view. I have seen it done a few times there and in other halls in the UK recently.
Comment by hiredfox - October 4, 2016 (2 of 4)
....having said that, Gardiner disappoints with uninspired performances of these symphonies in a (DSD) recording that suffers from a far too narrow soundstage (stereo) and lacking inner detailing and separation of players. A great pity as the previous releases in this survey have delighted with their spontaneity and freshness. What went wrong this time?
Comment by hiredfox - October 15, 2016 (3 of 4)
Gramophone has this marked down as one of their recordings of the month which rather contradicts my earlier assessment. Having listened to this disc a few more times since, Gardiner's interpretations still fail to stimulate any real sense of freshness or originality that would set these performances above the average. If anything his brisk pacing for both symphonies seems inappropriate. We must agree to differ.
Comment by William Hecht - October 21, 2016 (4 of 4)
John I'd trust you over Gramophone any day.