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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847) Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Opus 56 'Scottish' (1842) [40:01]
Symphony No. 5 in D major, Opus 107 'Reformation' (c1840) [30:20]
Kammerakademie Potsdam/Antonella Manacorda
rec. 2016, Teldex Studio Berlin SONY CLASSICS 88985 433222 [70:21]
Looking at the back catalogues it seems more often to have been the tradition to couple Mendelssohn’s Third and Fourth symphonies on a single disc, though looking back to 2010 I encountered the same programme from the Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra and Andrew Litton on the BIS label (review). Whether by accident or design, the booklet notes for my copy of this Sony release are in German only, but there don’t seem to be any comments on performance or interpretation concepts.
This is ‘period’ Mendelssohn in all but name, with restricted vibrato from the strings, chamber-orchestra sized sections and the appearance of a Serpent lurking somewhere between the trombones and timpani. The result is a light and refreshing sound which suits Mendelssohn’s nimble genius very well indeed. Drama and dynamism along with expressive elegance are all well in evidence in the first movement of the Third Symphony, with a palpable sense of joy in the second movement’s Vivace non troppo. Mendelssohn’s Scottish adventure brought out both an ebullient and a reflective side, and the song-like character of the first section of the Adagio is nicely crafted in this Potsdam recording, avoiding sentimentality while generously balancing those inner voices. Physicality and dance are called to mind in the sprightly finale to complete a fine performance.
The Fifth Symphony with its religious overtones is a more serious prospect, and the relatively dry studio acoustic counts a little against the effect of the atmospheric opening in this recording. The performance is fine, but I would prefer something a little more expansive. There is much excellent playing here however, and Antonella Manacorda is good at projecting Mendelssohn’s often turbulent vision in this work’s first movement. That gorgeous Andante is given plenty of space to breathe without wallowing, and the final movement which uses the chorale melody “Ein feste Burg ist unserer Gott” has plenty of weight, that serpent adding a satisfying low buzz to the bass line.
There are ever increasing options when it comes to ‘historically informed’ recordings of Mendelssohn’s symphonies but larger orchestras need not be unwieldy in this repertoire. Jan Willem de Vriend is interesting on Challenge Classics (review), and Claudio Abbado with the London Symphony Orchestra on Deutsche Grammophon is always a safe bet, though indeed on a different scale to these Potsdam recordings. The Fourth and First symphonies from Antonella Manacorda have been reviewed here. I’ve certainly enjoyed hearing these recordings, and for their light touch and dynamic freshness would certainly consider them well worth having.