Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 Scottish (1829-42) [31:51]
Symphony No.5 in D minor, Op.107, Reformation (1829-30) [27:47]
Morton GOULD (1913-1996)
Philharmonic Waltzes (1947-48) [9:25]
Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra of New York/Dimitri Mitropoulos
rec. 2 November 1953 (Mendelssohn) and 23 January 1950 (Gould); Columbia 30th Street Studio, New York

Mitropoulos set down these two Mendelssohn symphonies in a hurry. They were both recorded on 2 November 1953 and he was in no mood to stretch out like a cat arching its back in front of the fire. No, indeed, the Greek conductor was a beast of altogether a different stamp, launching a tigerish dive on perceived pieties in these works and driving his way through them.

He certainly takes the con moto indication seriously in the opening Andante section of the Scottish, vesting it with rhythmic snap and directionality. It then takes off with a surging, almost breathless vitality. The storm-pressed moments of the symphony are conveyed with huge drama but whilst the slow movement is sympathetically articulated its very terse sense of movement tends only to promote one rather doctrinaire approach to the score. The original recording was apparently - I’ve never heard it - very boxy and the gaps between movements extremely small. The former seems to have attended to via XR opening out, but the latter has been left ‘as is’.

The companion Reformation symphony conveys a similar sense of power and speed, though of a markedly less extreme kind. So the tensile qualities here sound rather more formal and acceptable and emerge as a taut and drama-laced (rather than merely driven) performance. Once again, though, Mitropoulos’s avoidance of extraneous romantic gesture means the reading is quite determinist and those unsympathetic to his way with it will recoil from the occasional ferocity.

As a pendant we have a recording from 1953 of Morton Gould’s Philharmonic Waltzes, a 1947 commission. This alternates between perky and pawky, and takes in a wide and bustling range of influences - a long list amongst whom Milhaud, Bernstein, and Strausses Richard (primarily) and Johann might find themselves numbered. It’s finely played by the NYPSO.

This disc handily collates the two Mendelssohn performances, which will be the motor of interest for Mitropoulos admirers. They will find their conductor on energized form throughout, to put it mildly.

Jonathan Woolf