Classical Music classical CDs reviewed New CD reviews every day latest Classical CD releases Buy your CDs of the classics here

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Music Webmaster
Len Mullenger:

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809 - 1847)
Symphony No 3 in A Minor. Op 56 "Scottish" [38.12]
Midsummer Night's Dream, Overture Op 21 and Incidental Music. Op 61* [39.45]
Jennifer Vyvyan (sop)*, Marion Lowe (sop)*
Female Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden*
London Symphony Orchestra  Peter Maag
Recorded April 1960 (Symphony); Feb 1957 Kingsway Hall, London. ADD
DECCA Legends 466 990-2 [79.25]

How good it is seeing old friends again after such a long time. That is the way I feel on receiving for review a disc of Peter Maag playing Mendelssohn. I recall with great affection the initial release on LP of the material that makes up this Decca Legends release - reminders of which are helped by the inserted photographs of the original sleeves. The contents of the new CD were then on two completely different vinyl records, released separately following recording sessions three years apart. Decca put out the Symphony along with different couplings (The Hebrides and some extracts from MND) in the nineties on CD in their Classic Sound label - a release that passed me by. This latest offering on the new Legends label makes a new generously filled selection with state of the art remastering (96kHz 24-bit for the boffins who understand such things).

There was the best possible base to work from. Decca engineering at its best at the time when they led the world - the Kingsway Hall venue they knew so well and the LSO - never the most consistent of ensembles but at its committed best the match of any orchestra anywhere in music that it enjoyed playing. That commitment to music and conductor is obvious throughout.

Peter Maag was undoubtedly a supreme conductor of Mendelssohn. Why a man shines in a particular composer's work more than another must be put down, I imagine, to an empathy with that composer. The converse, of course, is when a conductor simply cannot abide a composer. Which is why we avoid Maestro X playing you-know-who (feel free to add the names of your choices).

There is an instinctive feel for the pacing of the Symphony and the balance and proportions always seem just right. Clearly rehearsed music cannot be spontaneous in its truest sense but that is the impression it gives - a group feeling of pleasure shared at the moment of creation. The multi-tempi, multi-layered opening movement, a sparkling scherzo full of grace, a reflective, slightly sombre adagio and the vigorous finale with that roistering big tune at the end - and all those snatches of melody that Mendelssohn seemed able to dash off at will. The LSO of 1960 was here at the peak of its form and that recording techniques of the time that relied on basics and a minimum of fancy work with microphones has been shown, yet again, to be correct. So much can be heard in its proper perspective.

Decca had earlier recorded the Overture and Incidental Music to Midsummer Nights's Dream with the same team plus two sopranos and the Ladies of the ROH Chorus. Seven of the twelve numbers of the incidental music are included on this disc. The Overture, composed by a mere boy, a precociously gifted seventeen year old, shows a slight thinness of the strings compared with the Symphony - recording know-how had moved on in three years - but none of it matters in the context of the performance. It is a little gem of a work, and Maag with deft touches here and there polishes all the facets.

The Incidental Music positively oozes melody. The popular pieces are there, the Scherzo, open textured but robust, the Nocturne (with some lovely sectional playing, notably the horns), Dance of the Clowns and inevitably the Wedding March. Brief additions from the two sopranos and the choir are first-rate.

I cannot be alone in my views of the merits of this truly classic disc. The Gramophone Classical 100 included its Classic Sound predecessor. The record is something special and should be snapped up before it goes into the black hole where CDs seem to disappear to so quickly these days. Surely a strong candidate for Record of the Month.


Harry Downey


Harry Downey

Reviews from previous months

You can purchase CDs, tickets and musician's accessories and Save around 22% with these retailers : - The UK's Biggest Video Store

Concert and Show tickets


Musicians accessories

Click here to visit

Return to Index