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Mendelssohn: Symphony No 2 "Lobgesang" / Howarth, Larmore, Pregardien, Litton, Bergen PO

Release Date: 04/28/2009 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 1704   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Jennifer LarmoreJudith HowarthChristoph Prégardien
Conductor:  Andrew Litton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Multi 
Length: 1 Hours 3 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This is a hybrid Super Audio CD playable on both regular and Super Audio CD players.


MENDELSSOHN Symphony No. 2, “Lobgesang” Andrew Litton, cond; Judith Howarth (sop); Jennifer Larmore (sop); Christoph Prégardien (ten); Bergen Vocal Ens; Danish Natl Vocal Ens; Bergen PO & Ch BIS 1704 (Hybrid multichannel SACD: 63:05 Text and Translation) Read more Live: Bergen 4/2008

“Lobgesang” seems to be making a bit of a comeback. This is the second recording I have reviewed in four months, and the second with DSD surround sound. The last review was of the German Chamber Philharmonic and Frieder Bernius, a recording I rated above Abbado and Chailly (though Jeffrey J. Lipscomb ranked Chailly in his 2006 Want List), and possibly the best yet to appear. Now comes the usually very reliable Andrew Litton with his relatively new band, the Bergen PO, in a live performance from last year. All things considered, it also is very fine (particularly the splendid singers), though upon comparison there are some things that don’t hold up as well.

Mendelssohn’s choral symphony is actually a series of three connected movements played without pause, followed by a cantata dedicated to the establishment of the printing press, albeit done in a way that doesn’t mention any of this so as to be relevant later. Instead it is guised in the idea of light vs. darkness, and uses the appropriate biblical texts to underline this theme, the printing press obviously being an instrument of “light” in order to spread God’s word around the world. The music is excellent, though not up to the standards of the “Italian” or “Scottish” symphonies, and it really fades if one even dares to compare it to Beethoven’s Ninth. But if proper attention is paid, there are many rewards to be found, and a skilled conductor can certainly enhance the experience; in fact, I would say that a skilled conductor is a necessity, for this work (Mendelssohn’s fourth symphony chronologically) does not play itself, and needs all the help it can get.

The sound is very good in this release, with a spacious feeling to the surround, yet putting us in the audience with a consequent perspective that has the singers sounding like they are on a stage and not artificially enhanced. But I think the Bernius is still the preferred recording; even though Litton has the best soloists of any recording, and his Bergenders play beautifully, the Bernius has more punch when needed and a better sense of tempo adjustments. The sound is also clearer, probably because it is a studio recording. This is still worthwhile, and will join the Bernius and Chailly recordings in my collection (I don’t feel the need for any more than three “Lobgesang” readings), but if forced to choose a modern SACD, if would be the Bernius.

FANFARE: Steven E. Ritter
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 2 in B flat major, Op. 52 "Lobgesang" by Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Jennifer Larmore (Mezzo Soprano), Judith Howarth (Soprano), Christoph Prégardien (Tenor)
Conductor:  Andrew Litton
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bergen Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
Length: 60 Minutes 27 Secs. 

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