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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 4 in A major, Italian (1833) [27:52]
Symphony No. 5 in D major, Reformation (1832) [26:19]
La Chambre Philharmonique/Emmanuel Krivine
rec. Opera Bastille salle Liebermann, Paris, July 2006. DDD
NAŌVE V 5069 [54:13]

Emmanuel Krivineís vision of Mendelssohnís symphonic evocation of Italy begins sunny, light and scintillating. That La Chambre Philharmonique is a period instrument orchestra, with here just 9 first violins, 8 seconds, 6 violas, 6 cellos and 3 double basses, is indicative of its capacity for buoyancy of texture and agility of articulation. This opening movement (tr. 1) is truly Allegro vivace. Set against this a welcome contrasted touch of raucousness in the period horns and mellifluousness in the period woodwind. Krivine also makes the second theme (1:24) both relaxed yet carrying the music forward. The new theme in the development (5:22), introduced by the second violins as the subject of a fugue, is neat and consistently light but gathers verve nicely with especial help from the horns. The climactic passages for full orchestra are more stimulating than dramatic. The recapitulation of the second theme by violas and cellos (7:41) is attractively intimate. Indeed the whole is delightfully shaped.

To the slow movement Pilgrimsí March (tr. 2) Krivine brings at first a sober dignity and touch of asceticism with the first theme appearing just on oboe, bassoons and violas. But its repeat (0:34) comes with those sheeny violins and flutesí embellishments. Itís like having the experienced, dour pilgrims at the front and then the eager first timers. This pattern is repeated for the second half of the theme (0:59) and again Krivine points the contrast between the deliberate and the effusive. All of this is, as marked, Andante con moto, thatís rather faster than normal walking pace, and you feel these pilgrims glide rather than march. The second theme, introduced by the clarinet (2:18), is a completely sunny one. The pilgrimsí vision at the end? The purposive march returns (2:56) but so does the vision (3:51) now treated with great delicacy by Krivine, especially the innocent first flute garnishing before the entire procession recedes into the distance.

The third movement Minuet (tr. 3) is again light and graciously pointed, the Con moto moderato marking clearly observed. I like the clarity of the growing dynamic and emotion of the second half of the theme (0:58) scrupulously set within the overall picture. The Trio (2:21) is consistent in its quiet pointing. Its horns expressive accents, crescendi and sforzandi are appealingly realized even if their difficulty in execution is apparent.

Krivine gives a frisky, invigorating picture of those Neapolitan girls Mendelssohn recalls dancing at Amalfi in the Saltarello finale (tr. 4). The playing is very fast, as marked, spikier than before and with a climax of swirling quavers which allows the strings and woodwind in turn to demonstrate their virtuosity but just as a contribution to a unified impression of the intoxication of the dance.

I compared the 1994 recording by Anima Eterna/Jos van Immerseel (Channel Classics CCS 6694) as this is the only period instrument version currently available with the same coupling. Here are the comparative timings:



















Immerseelís string body at 8,8,5,4,3 is even slimmer than Krivineís to more feathery but less sheeny effect. His recording is airier but with the orchestra set back a little in comparison with Krivineís. Immerseelís is a stylish account but Krivine brings more animation to the opening and the closer focus of his recording is more arresting. Thereís also a greater spontaneity, even a sense of risk taking about Krivineís approach. Immerseel brings more bounce to the first movement second theme, but I prefer Krivineís greater serenity. Immerseelís development is firmly conveyed but the gradual increase in sonority is neither as boldly nor as excitingly shaped as Krivineís.

With Krivine thereís more of a rush of blood about the recapitulation while his return of the second theme is more characterful and has a better integrated flute and clarinet backcloth.

Immerseelís Pilgrimsí March, markedly slower than Krivineís, is a more sombre affair. All is control, dignity and decorum, with the first theme repeats respectful. The second themeís vision seems only a distant hope. Immerseel gives us a vivid study of melancholy. I prefer Krivineís focus on the goal, the light at the end of the journey, without disguising there are hardships on the way. He also conveys more tellingly the party disappearing at the end.

Immerseelís Minuet has a smooth, stylish grace with every aspect integrated and flowing. Thereís something miniaturist about his Trio, his horns more secure than Krivineís but also more contained. In the Minuet Krivine has a lighter touch in the strings and more buoyancy in the woodwind. His phrasing is a little more pointed, the melody more expressively shaped, though Immerseelís overview approach is equally valid. Thereís more detail to savour in Krivineís and his Trio, because its squarer rhythms are emphasised, is more of a contrast.

Immerseelís finale is crisp and effective with smouldering flutes to open, but it doesnít have Krivineís excitement through his touch of abandon and starker dynamic contrasts. Krivine also invests the central build up of string swirls (tr. 4 2:31) with more carefree interest and gossamery texture.

The other symphony on this disc, Mendelssohnís Reformation, intended for the ceremonies celebrating the tercentenary of the Augsburg Confession, is more formal and rhetorical, at least in its outer movements with their overt religious content. But Krivine still makes the first movement introduction sunny, albeit with a reverent caste. Three trombones, absent in the Italian, add to the glowing wind band and brass fanfares are answered by an ethereal Dresden Amen from the strings (tr. 5 2:08). The Allegro con fuoco main body of the movement is stormily presented, the second theme (4:12) more humane yet still troubled. Krivine sails through it all with a kind of Rubens sweep. The development is delivered with a fervour that makes you think of Berlioz though it doesnít have his ability to spring surprises. Except at the end (7:52), when the Dresden Amen returns, a benediction which results in the following recapitulation of the stormy material in chastened form before this turns from 9:19 into a frenzied coda, a rousing call to arms when attempts at conciliation have failed.

After this a delightful scherzo in B flat major (tr. 6), jubilant and tripping with carefree wind fanfares, a trombone free zone. Who knows what it means in context? Iíd go for a world without schisms. The Trio (1:54) has comely oboes in duet then violas and cellos serenading. It could all be by Schubert except itís more given to lingering closing passages, the Trio melody returning briefly in the coda. Krivine keeps the Allegro vivace tempo but still suggests a haven of luxury by a smoothly phrased Trio.

The brief slow movement (tr. 7) is a sensitive aria in G minor sung by the first violins. The mood is penitential but thereís hope as well as sorrowing, smooth contours as well as the anguish Krivine conveys through finely graded dynamics. It leads straight into the finale (tr. 8), a symphonic fantasia on the Lutheran chorale† Einí feste Burg ist unser Gott!, A safe stronghold our God is still. And fairly action packed at that. The theme is introduced by flute then serene, smooth woodwind band, with the double bassoon appearing for the first time at 0:31 to enrich the bass. Indeed Iíve never heard a double bassoon more vividly recorded than here. I even wondered if itís a serpent Mendelssohn also allows to play this part, but itís not listed as such.

Tumultuous strings present Allegro vivace at 1:11, a rather bullish Allegro maestoso at 1:43 and supply a rugged fugato from 2:24. But the wind lead a more unified theme at 3:06 which has some of the features and jollity of the scherzo. From 4:15 the strings provide a gentle backcloth for woodwind solo elaborations on the chorale theme which at 5:39 blazes across the stringsí fugato before its closing appearance from 7:17 in great breadth from full orchestra. Krivine treats it all as a jamboree and itís easy to catch the euphoria.

Here are the comparative timings with Immerseel:



















Immerseelís serenity in the first movement is more solemn, formal and deliberate. His Allegro is a touch stiffer, its second theme lighter, perhaps because of his fewer strings and there is more dramatic weight from the heavy brass battalions. Krivineís is a smoother phrased serenity, more actively witnessed. His Dresden Amens are more poised. His Allegro is more urgent to go places, a conflict of fervour. His second theme has more warmth and flexible sinuousness.

In the scherzo Immerseel is, for once, faster and lighter. Itís deliciously done and comes with a tranquil, warm Trio but I still prefer the greater immediacy, bite and humour of Krivineís crisper articulation and more forward recording while his Trio conveys an unaffected innocence.

Immerseelís slower slow movement is concentrated, serious and sensitively shaped but for me itís a little too considered. I prefer Krivineís more natural flow, more direct sorrowing, more appreciable melodic line and phases of emotion, such as the second, more melting phase at tr. 7 0:55 then more anguished climax at 1:19.

Immerseelís finale is splendidly full throttle, its introduction stately yet surprisingly passionate as it develops in more marked dynamic contrasts than Krivine, foreshadowing the mood of the following Allegro. Itís a joyously savoured celebration with a bouncing Allegro maestoso, sturdy fugato but the second, scherzo like, theme is perhaps over subdued at first. Krivine prefers to allow the introduction to unfold naturally and concentrates throughout on firm shape and purpose. The density of the sonorities emerges more clearly. His is a finale of exhilarating kinetic sweep. The fugato is more tightly controlled to more biting effect and the second theme makes its cheerily distinctive mark more immediately.

Iíve just two critical comments about this NaÔve CD. Firstly, in a recording notable for its forwardness and clarity the timpani seem a little buried, without the impact one expects in period performance and gets from Immerseelís. Secondly, though Krivineís consistently animated approach works for me, it results in a total playing time of 54:13, which is short measure for a full price CD these days. An opportunity for illuminating comparison was missed in not including one or more of Mendelssohnís string symphonies.

That said, if you want this coupling on period instruments, which I prefer in these works for their greater vibrancy of tone and clarity of rhythm, this Krivine CD is the one to go for. While carefully thought out in terms of phrasing and dynamics, these performances also have great spontaneity. You could imagine they were recorded live in concert.

Michael Greenhalgh



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