symphonies are something of a mixed bag Ė the first is youthful
and high-spirited, the second a big choral work. The last three
are the essential works and are all very different in character.
Collecting them together on a budget label and filling the second
disc with overtures would seem to represent a plug at the starter
collection market. Certainly I should say straight away that,
if you already have satisfactory recordings of these works,
there is no reason to add this set, despite its low price. Muti
is an enthusiastic guide to the symphonies but, perversely,
his Italian symphony is the weakest link. He appears
to see this work as being on the same scale as its predecessor
and the result is heavy-handed. He is not helped by the recording
which was made in a different venue to the other symphonies
- see heading for details - and tends to be congested. Interestingly,
it has recently been pointed out in the correspondence columns
of Gramophone that Boultís last recording of Elgarís
first symphony was split between these same two venues and the
correspondent thought the sound in the one movement recorded
in Kingsway Hall - in same era as these recordings - to be superior.
Overall, this is not a patch on DohnŠnyiís 1978 Vienna Philharmonic
recording which sparkles brightly throughout albeit lacking
the first movement repeat.
If Mutiís readings
of Scottish and Reformation symphonies are much
nearer the money Ė and sound better Ė I still enjoyed them less
than Atzmonís readings of the overtures. Hardly a big name,
he seems more sympathetic to Mendelssohnís cause than Muti in
delivering generally dramatic and no-nonsense accounts. He was
recorded in Abbey Road No. 1 but the sound seems less problematic.
The choice of overtures is interesting. It was fair enough not
to include A Midsummer Nightís Dream since most collectors
will have or want the complete incidental music. The omission
of The Fair Melusine is disappointing with Athalie
and Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde being rather obscure
by comparison. But I cannot imagine anyone is going to buy this
primarily for the overtures.
There is no denying
that EMIís budget twofer label has some real gems Ė for example
Beechamís recordings of Haydnís London symphonies. Selling
at well under ten pounds and well-presented, this is a catalogue
which is well worth browsing. It might be worth stopping at
this point if your shelves are virtually Mendelssohn-free and
the budget is tight but otherwise, Ďpass oní would be my advice.
Abbadoís 1980s LSO complete symphony set with fillers on 4CDs
for DG remains available and costs about two and half times
as much. That is surely a better bargain than the present offering
and, when it returns, DohnŠnyiís excellent set will also be
worthy of consideration.