The Victorians’ love affair with all things Scottish
was reflected in the arts and personified by Queen Victoria herself.
Scotland’s landscape, legends and music were celebrated not only
in England, but also in Continental Europe. Mendelssohn’s best-known
works in the genre, the Third Symphony and Hebrides Overture,
are fine examples of this Romantic attachment.
Masur’s custody of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
has produced many admired recordings, including works rarely heard
in Germany during the Nazi regime, such as the Mendelssohn symphonies.
It was therefore with a keen sense of anticipation that I listened
to this CD of his 1962 performance of No. 3. Unfortunately the
word that best describes it is ‘turgid’. Leisurely tempi and a
cursory approach to the composer’s brilliant scene-painting add
up to a lack-lustre interpretation that sent me back to Solti’s
sparkling reading with the LSO to restore my belief that the Scottish
is one of Mendelssohn’s most attractive scores. It is not merely
the current fashion for ‘historically informed’ performance techniques,
with their crisper tactus and lighter textures, that makes for
unfavourable comparisons: here the whole work sags; the last movement
(marked Allegro vivacissimo) is notably lacking in liveliness.
The over-upholstered orchestral sound does not help, and Masur
is apparently convinced that a solid, uninvolved approach is just
what’s required for this predominantly sunny work; but not by
The Schumann Cello Concerto recorded in 1985
fares better, thanks to the sensitive playing of Jürnjakob
Timm whose expressive yet commanding presence in the foreground
brings colour to Masur’s somewhat deadpan interpretation. The
violin and cello concertos, both late works when the composer
was suffering his final illness, have never figured among Schumann’s
most admired symphonic works. No cellist was found in his lifetime
who would play them, and he never lived to hear a performance.
Together with its unbalanced acoustic and stilted
orchestral playing I do not consider this disc a bargain at any