Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 2
Pablo Heras-Casado, cond; Kristiane Karg, Christina Landshamer (sop); Michael Shade (ten); Bavarian R Ch & SO
HARMONIA MUNDI 902151 (61:48)
It has been about 45 years now since Mendelssohn’s once popular but forgotten “Lobgesang” Symphony was first revived on disc by Herbert von Karajan and Wolfgang Sawallisch. In recent times, happily, it has been welcomed back without controversy into the repertory by any number of conductors as the masterpiece that it is. The Karajan
performance, orchestrally magisterial and still available, was flawed by operatic tendencies on the part of the chorus, and the Sawallisch run-through, chorally beautiful, was a bit dull otherwise. Somewhat later, Dohnányi recorded the symphony as if it
an opera, and I would advise our readers to avoid it. But in recent times, several conductors have gotten the porridge right: Ashkenazy, Chailly, Orozco-Estrada, Bosch, and now Heras-Casado, who appears in general to be a young “Mendelssohn whisperer,” conducting Mendelssohn symphonies wherever he guests.
Among these performances, Chailly’s is perhaps the most satisfying, unashamedly large-scaled and velvety, with wonderful sound. It made a big impression a few seasons ago on his East Coast tour with the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra (Mendelssohn’s own, it bears remembering). But unfortunately, Chailly chose to conduct an early edition of the symphony, with a less impressive opening trombone fanfare and awkward transitions in the three orchestral movements.
That puts Orozco-Estrada, Bosch, and Heras-Casado at the top of the list. The perfectly fine Ashkenazy has been available only as part of a complete set of the symphonies. The Bosch is in a league of its own for beautiful SACD sound and a swift, soft-grained yet lean approach, with just the slightest touch of “early music” phrasing to detract from the romance of it. The Orozco-Estrada and Heras-Casado performances are extremely similar and uncontroversial in their approach. Both feature fine soloists, beautiful renditions of the famous chorale
Nun danket alle Gott
, and lively, emotionally engaged playing in the three orchestral movements. I might be tempted to favor Orozco-Estrada on Preiser, recorded live with the Tonkunstler in the open acoustic of Vienna’s Musikverein, but that is a subjective judgment. Heras-Casado gets finely balanced sound as well, studio-recorded for Harmonia Mundi in Munich’s Philharmonie am Gasteig, but I find it just a touch dry.
Even so, I think it hard to imagine how one could fail to be swept up by the great trombone fanfare which opens the symphony and unifies it with such subtlety—and deeply moved by all which follows. Mendelssohn is lucky once again to be considered a great symphonic composer, and lucky that this hybrid work has made it back onto the concert stage. But he is not so lucky as the listener. This is memorable music, exciting, noble and pure of heart.
FANFARE: Steven Kruger
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in B flat major, Op. 52 "Lobgesang" by Felix Mendelssohn
Christina Landshamer (Soprano),
Christiane Karg (Soprano),
Michael Schade (Tenor)
Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra,
Bavarian Radio Chorus
Written: 1840; Germany
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