Since the Gewandhaus was Mendelssohn's own orchestra, it makes sense
that that composer's music would figure in a new Music Director's
inaugural concerts, as they did for Riccardo Chailly's in 2005.
But why choose the rarely encountered Lobgesang? Well,
the score certainly conveys an appropriate sense of occasion,
on a more accessible, less Olympian scale than the ubiquitous
Beethoven Ninth. And veteran listeners may remember that Chailly
made a splendid but short-lived Lobgesang for Philips
in late-analog days, though in its revised version as the Second
Symphony rather than the original "symphony-cantata"
form performed here.
So the conductor has a history with this particular score, in whatever
form. He also clearly has a strong affinity for it, which is
good news after his extensive, ultimately dispiriting series
of recordings with the Concertgebouw Orchestra. The occasional
trim, well-proportioned performance - the Mahler First Symphony,
for example - would emerge, but overall the series increasingly
came to suggest an inexperienced driver relying on a fine car's
"cruise control" - the ride, smooth and uneventful
when traversing known roads, could be bumpy in less familiar
terrain. But this performance is another matter altogether -
energized, purposeful, and evincing a level of involvement I
haven't heard from Chailly in years. In fact, this might just
be his best record since that first Lobgesang!
Chailly projects the first movement's dotted rhythms with a thrust
that propels the music forward, avoiding the whiff of sanctimony
that hovers over some performances (as it also can over the
Reformation Symphony); the trombones' statements of the
main theme, at the beginning at end of the movement, are clear
and forthright. The airy ease and naturalness of the inner instrumental
movements leads the ear along; the woodwind phrasing is particularly
sensitive and alluring.
The choral movements sound a bit generalized in sonority, in the hearty
big-oratorio manner, but the textures surge and contract appropriately,
with nicely sprung rhythms again building inexorably into stirring
climaxes, especially at the finish, where the organ registers
as a strong reinforcing presence. On the way there, the high
choral intonations of Nun danket alle Gott (track 12)
are ethereal, while the busy orchestral answers look back to
Bach and other older models; the individual choral parts, handsomely
blended, are well defined in the fugal passages of track 14.
The solo singing is good, and the first soprano entry shines
- I suspect it's Anne Schwanewilms, though the booklet doesn't
indicate which of the two sopranos might be singing where.
Chailly and Decca preface Lobgesang with a relatively
conventional Midsummer Night's Dream overture. The booklet
makes a big deal of the "original version" here, too,
but any differences from the standard edition - largely concerning
phrase and articulation markings - are basically imperceptible.
There are mild passing blemishes - a few indecorous violin screeches
in Bottom's theme, a premature wind entry at 8:36 - for which
the gentle, precise woodwind chording and the winding down into
the serene coda afford ample compensation.
recorded sound has all the depth and burnished blend of past
Gewandhaus recordings, adding a modicum of the color and definition
one as one expects from Decca - most attractive.
Stephen Francis Vasta