have always loved these works written by a "great-grandpupil"
of Bach (Mendelssohnís mother who was his first teacher studied
with a student of Bachís) and felt they preserve an authentic
Baroque flavor with just a little bit of Romantic sugar thrown
in. Much to my delight, here they are performed just that way.
The vigorous tempi and incisive phrasing call to mind Baroque
concerto style, and the Mendelssohn sweetness is too strong not
to survive even if it is not given a specific nod. Most other
performances play them more in a sentimentalized romantic style
and while the music is strong enough to survive this easily, they
end up sounding old fashioned, more like attempts at something
rather than fully successful works of art.
Mendelssohn wrote his first "official" symphony, a scantily
successful student work self-consciously imitating Beethoven,
it was first given the number 13, and these early symphonies were
considered honorable forebears. But Victorian musicologists were
having none of it. The string symphonies were merely studies,
and hence discardable whereas the attempt at Beethoven, however
far of the mark, was "serious" music and was awarded
the number 1. Here things are further confused by having a posthumously
published sketch designated as the thirteenth string symphony.
It wasnít until I got an LP with Mendelssohnís first on one side
and Schubertís first on the other side, and then got the sides
mixed up, that I came to realize how truly awful Mendelssohnís
"first" Symphony is compared with such a splended work
as the Schubert.
the Victorians, even those who worshipped Mendelssohn, didnít
realize that genius doesnít study, genius doesnít struggle through
the mire of failed attempts towards a distant shining goal of
perfection. Mendelssohnís earliest works, like Mozartís, were
perfect, or as close to it as is humanly possible. Mendelssohn
only wrote bad music when he was trying to please others by constructing
artificiality, and thus we have the eminently discardable "First"
and "Second" Symphonies as monuments to this futile
wrongheadedness. Fortunately for us, and for Brahms, Mendelssohn
was firmly back on the track by the time of his Third Symphony,
and Brahms, who was afraid to try to imitate Beethoven, had no
problem imitating Mendelssohn to produce his own First Symphony.
I the only one who, while listening to Straussís Metamorphosen
and reading how Strauss is quoting the Beethoven Eroica hears
just as much borrowed from the Mendelssohn String Symphony #8
to the lushly sensual Boughton recordings one would hardly want
the works to be played any faster, but the smaller forces used
by the Concerto Köln allow a chamber music clarity and incisiveness,
so not only are there faster tempi, but there is also more agile
phrasing, possible and desirable. And, Boughton adds enough sugar
that you need to drink a full glass of water after each symphony.
And there is a slightly artificial sounding "ring" to
the acoustic on the Boughton recordings. But the one advantage
Boughton has is that his is a complete set of the twelve. Elatus
reissues unfortunately tend to excerpting, so we are not likely
to hear in this series Concerto Köln play the remainder of
the works, that is volumes 1 and 2, and that is a shame. The original
issue numbers on Teldec Das Alte Werk are: Volume 1: 4509-94565-2
and Volume 2: 4509-98435-2.
least one recording of all these early Symphonies belongs in every
collection, and if you already have one such recording, you might
want to add this one also.