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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No.1 in C minor, Op.11 (1824)
Symphony No.5 in D major, Op.107 ‘Reformation’ (1830)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Kurt Masur
Recorded in the Leipzig Gewandhaus, September 1989
WARNER APEX 2564 60370 2 [55’03]



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This is the second of the old Warner Ultima double packs now released as single discs at super-budget. Having given the thumbs up to the first, the Hymn of Praise Symphony-Cantata, this strikes me as every bit as successful. It is an extremely popular coupling, but Masur’s crisp, sprightly, no-nonsense approach makes for very satisfying listening, and only if you are wanting more indulgently Romantic readings are you likely to be disappointed.

The First Symphony bristles with life, and the ghosts of the great classical masters loom large over events, as might be expected from the 15-year-old composer. That is probably why I like Masur’s way with the music, attacking accents with punch but not aggression, making sure allegros are buoyant and colourful without forcing extremes of tempo. The playing of the Gewandhaus Orchestra must really be commended here, with lithe, supple strings and deliciously pointed wind playing. The more spacious approach of, say, Ashkenazy on Decca may please some in the lovely, song-like andante, but Masur’s flowing speed never gets in the way of the lyrical line, and he is always sensitive to details.

Again in the Reformation, some may want more affectionate phrasing or greater space and freedom. But there is no lack of mystery in the slow introduction to the first movement, and Masur’s handling of the Dresden Amen passages that permeate it is delicate and wistful rather than pious or awe-struck. Granted, the second movement nearly becomes a hectic scherzo, but one cannot help thinking the point and wit in the playing as being thoroughly idiomatic. The initial statement of the Ein feste Burg chorale in the finale, on unaccompanied flute, is wonderfully ethereal and gossamer light, and later climaxes are superbly judged.

Digital recording quality is excellent, with space and detail in perfect measure. The main super-budget competition seems to be from Masur’s earlier cycle, now on Brilliant Classics, but these later recordings have a great deal to commend them and can be very confidently recommended.

Tony Haywood



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