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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No. 3 in A minor Scottish Op.44 [34:17]
Symphony No. 5 in D minor Reformation Op. 107 [30:42]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Overture and Allegro from the sonata “La Sultane” (transcription by Darius Milhaud)  [7:49]
Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester/Dmitri Mitropoulos
rec. Funkhaus, Saal 1, WDR Cologne, 24 October 1960 (Scottish Symphony), 19 July 1957 (Reformation Symphony), 16 July 1954
MEDICI MASTERS MM014-2 [74:21]


By the late 1950s the once-illustrious career of Dmitri Mitropoulos at the helm of the New York Philharmonic had run into trouble. The conductor’s own essentially gentle, non-combative attitude to music-making did not earn him the respect of the hard-bitten NYPO musicians of the time. He was neither an orchestral trainer nor a martinet of the podium à la Szell. His dedication to contemporary music and his unconventional approach to programme-building was not reflected in support from the notoriously conventional Carnegie Hall audiences.  He was the subject of regular and frequently personal attacks in the New York press. As Mitropoulos’s star waned, that of his erstwhile protégé Leonard Bernstein was in the ascendant, providing New York audiences with the glamour and glitz which were absent from the Greek conductor’s make-up.  Small wonder that Mitropoulos, his health seriously affected by the stresses of the last few years, looked to Europe to continue the music-making that was so important to him. 

A series of memorable performances in Salzburg, Vienna and elsewhere consolidated his reputation on that side of the Atlantic. The current disc brings together three separate studio performances with the Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester from this period.

Mitropoulos had performed and recorded these Mendelssohn Symphonies in 1953 in New York, but these German recordings are better in terms of both sound and performance.  The Scottish Symphony recording dates from 24 October 1960, just a week before Mitropoulos memorable performance of Mahler’s Third Symphony with the same forces, and ten days before his death while rehearsing the same work in Milan. The opening movement is energetic, with imposingly dramatic playing and dynamic contrasts. The Vivace non troppo is a delight, performed faster than is customary, creating a riot of sound and colour. The Adagio is marked by heartfelt cantabile playing from the whole orchestra, followed by a suitably energetic finale.

The Reformation Symphony dates from a 1957 concert and shares the virtues of energy and commitment that distinguished the Scottish. The transition in the finale from the simplicity of the chorale melody on flute to the jubilant allegro vivace is extremely well handled, and the music’s many contrapuntal strands are effectively highlighted. Mitropoulos brings the symphony to a suitably affirmative close.

The Couperin transcription by Darius Milhaud provides a good example of the breadth of Mitropoulos’s repertoire. In the same 1954 concert he conducted Schoenberg’s Violin Concerto with Louis Krasner as soloist. The music sounds not dissimilar to the contemporary arrangements of Bach by Stokowski, Ormandy and others in its unashamed use of full orchestral forces. The opening minuet is treated to lush phrasing before a more energetic march-like allegro. This rounds off this valuable disc in fine style.

In all these pieces Mitropoulos is skilled in balancing the structural aspects of the music with its dramatic, expressive side. All provide further evidence, if any were needed, of this great conductor’s total absorption in music-making, and fully justify the high reputation he enjoys today.

Ewan McCormick



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