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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 3 in A minor Op.56 Scottish [44:16]
Symphony No. 4 in A Op.90 Italian [29:13]
Symphony No. 5 in D Op.107 Reformation [32:06]
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Riccardo Muti
Overtures: The Hebrides Op.26 [9:32]; Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage Op.27 [11:27]; Athalie Op.74 [9:20]; Die Heimkehr aus der Fremde Op.89 [7:48]; Ruy Blas Op.95 [7:28]
New Philharmonia Orchestra/Moshe Atzmon
rec. Kingsway Hall, London 1-2 October 1975 (No 3), 18-19 January 1979 (No 5); No 1 Studio, Abbey Road, London 23 July, 9-10 September 1976 (No 4); 9-11 August 1974 (Overtures)
EMI CLASSICS GEMINI 3 81788 2 [76:27 + 74:52]


Mendelssohnís five 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.

Patrick C Waller



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