Notes and Editorial Reviews
Although of Jewish ancestry, Mendelssohn was a devout Lutheran convert who wrote a large number of religious works for church service and concert performance. Symphony No. 2, or ?Lobgesang?
(Hymn of Praise), is actually the fourth and next-to-last in order of composition: the correct sequence is Symphony No. 1 (1824), the ?Reformation?
(1830), the ?Italian?
(1840), and the ?Scottish?
(1842). Even more of a hybrid than Beethoven?s Ninth, ?Lobgesang?
consists of a three-movement sinfonia that?s followed by a seven-part cantata for two sopranos, tenor, chorus, and orchestra. The work was written to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the printing of the Gutenberg Bible. As in his earlier ?Reformation,?
Mendelssohn uses Lutheran chorales to express Martin Luther?s dictum that all of the arts, especially music, should serve Him who created them. The most prominent of these chorales is ?Alles danke dem Heern,? which opens the sinfonia?s first movement, is heard in the second movement, and later brings the entire symphony to a close.
was first performed in Leipzig under the composer?s direction. Hence, it is apt and fitting that Riccardo Chailly should choose it to inaugurate his tenure as head of the Leipzig Gewandhaus in this live performance from September 2005 (but oddly, even via headphones, I couldn?t detect the presence of an audience?it will be interesting to see and hear if there are any differences in the forthcoming release on DVD). In ?Lobgesang?
A Midsummer Night?s Dream Overture
, Chailly has elected to go back to the original published scores (the first conductor on records to do so). While the textual differences in the overture are relatively minor (slight variations in articulation and in the division of instrumental parts), there are some major changes in ?Lobgesang?
(e.g., ?Die Nacht ist vergangen? omits the soprano introduction and goes directly to the orchestral fanfare and chorus).
The overture is given a fine, if somewhat laid-back reading that joins a lengthy list of worthy recordings (e.g., Mörike, Furtwängler, Beecham, Scherchen, Schuricht, Silvestri, and, for the rough-and-ready, Golovanov). But Chailly?s performance of ?Lobgesang?
is simply magnificent. I would rank this account with Stokowski?s ?Scottish?
(available in a 10-CD set from the New York Philharmonic) and Busch?s ?Italian? (in EMI/IMG?s ?Great Conductors?) as one of the three greatest live Mendelssohn symphonies in my listening experience. The two sopranos are superb: Anne Schwanewilms?s distinctive timbres (an unlikely amalgam of early Elizabeth Schwarzkopf and Teresa Stich-Randall) blend effectively with the more conventionally beautiful voice of Petra-Maria Schnitzer. Peter Seiffert?s tenor has darkened since his 1988 studio effort with Sawallisch (EMI), and some of the bloom has left his high notes. However, this is amply offset by his more intensely sincere interpretation here. The choral work, supervised by Morten Schuldt-Jensen, is spectacularly eloquent. Chailly?s carefully molded phrases, especially in the expressive string-playing, are combined with well-nigh ideal tempos that result in the finest ?Lobgesang? I?ve ever heard. Just listen to Chailly?s magical build-up to the first choral entry?this is inspired conducting by any standard. In comparison, my previous favorite (Sawallisch/Berlin Philharmonic on EMI) now sounds rather lightweight and uninflected. Leipzig has retained all the wonderful characteristics of a traditional German orchestra: a burnished mahogany finish, strings like dark liquid amber, slightly tart winds, and distinctly nasal horns. Unfortunately, the Berlin Philharmonic?s bright, homogenized sound is getting more and more like an American orchestra?s: the warmly variegated tone that typified its playing in the Furtwängler era is now just a distant memory.
If my review is starting to sound like a hymn of praise, so be it. This CD fully deserves the highest rating?Want List, Desert Island, the whole nine yards. An essential purchase.
FANFARE: Jeffrey J. Lipscomb
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in B flat major, Op. 52 "Lobgesang" by Felix Mendelssohn
Petra Maria Schnitzer (Soprano),
Anne Schwanewilms (Soprano),
Peter Seiffert (Tenor)
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra,
Leipzig Gewandhaus Chorus,
Leipzig Opera Chorus
Written: 1840; Germany
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