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Mendelssohn: Symphonies No 3 & 4 / Solti, London Symphony Orchestra

Release Date: 05/23/2006 
Label:  Eloquence   Catalog #: 4768459   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony OrchestraIsrael Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

This release marks the first appearance on CD of Solti’s 1953 “Scottish,” and the mono sound is excellent. However, this new transfer of his 1958 stereo “Italian” is a bit harsh and strident compared to the original London LP (I haven’t heard Decca’s earlier CD in its deleted “Weekend Classics” series). Reducing the treble will tame brightness in the upper strings, but audiophiles who admire this performance will want to keep their analog vinyl. At any rate, these readings are unlikely to convert those who regard Solti’s style as too stern and relentless. There’s some irony in that criticism: when the future conductor was still a child, his father changed the family’s German-Jewish surname from Stern to Solti (after a small town in Read more Hungary).

Of the dozen or so “Italian” recordings I surveyed for this review, Solti has the second-fastest first movement (7: 04), just behind the 1947 Koussevitzky/Boston Symphony (Haydn House). Actually, Koussevitzky logs in at 9:24, but unlike Solti, he observes the exposition repeat and its magical 22 bar transition passage (one of Mendelssohn’s finest creations). To his credit, Solti’s inner movements are more good-natured than are those of the overly zealous Szell (1961 Sony, with repeat). In the Saltarello presto finale, Solti’s fast 5:29 is second only to Koussevitzky’s, but it doesn’t match the latter’s breathtaking virtuosity. Among the fast but less aggressive alternatives, the 1954 Toscanini/NBC (RCA, minus the repeat) achieves transparent textures and nuanced phrasing in one of the maestro’s best recordings. It’s a great “Italian” from a great Italian conductor. The well-executed but slightly brusque 1958 Munch/BSO (RCA, absent the repeat) has much better stereo sound than does the Solti.

Three superb “Italian” readings (sans repeat) of the slower type are the 1950 Busch with the Danish Radio (IMG/EMI “Great Conductors”), Pedrotti/Czech Philharmonic in 1951 (Classics for the Occasion), and the 1952 Beecham/Royal Philharmonic (Sony). Busch is unusually lyrical, Pedrotti is bucolic and lovably rustic, while Beecham has finer playing and better sound than does his slightly faster 1942 New York Philharmonic (Sony). Beecham’s exquisitely inflected phrasing gives his “Italian” a sense of infinite grace and charm. Two LPs from the early 1950s that deserve to be on CD are the Rieger/Munich (Heliodor, no repeat) and the rare Gauk/Moscow Radio (Melodiya, with repeat).

Solti gives a swift, straightforward “Scottish” (34:07) that joins those by Weingartner, Toscanini, Stokowski, Mitropoulos, and Rodzinski (all in the 33–35 minute range) as the fastest I’ve heard. None take the exposition repeat. Sadly, all of these are too fast in the problematic maestoso coda (Solti speeds up at the start). Only the Toscanini offers clear articulation of the coda’s tricky syncopated passages (starting at bar 440). The “Scottish” really needs a slower pacing to flower at its fullest. My favorites are the 1954 Kletzki and the Israel Philharmonic (mono Angel LP), the 1960 Maag/LSO (Decca), and the 1962 Konwitschny/Leipzig Gewandhaus (Curb/Edel). Maag and Kletzki both come in at just over 38 minutes; Konwitschny is more leisurely (42:30). Kletzki is the most romantic and impassioned, with fluctuating tempos that recall Furtwängler’s mode of conducting. The Maag has warmer playing from the LSO than does the earlier Solti. The only shortcomings are in the coda, with its loudly whooping horns and some lack of definition in the syncopated passages (i.e., the trumpet and timpani parts are virtually inaudible).

Konwitschny is slow, but his lilting rhythms exude a warm glow. The recording was made shortly before his fatal heart attack at age 60, and this slowly imbibed “Scotch” seems a fitting conclusion for a conductor known to his players as “Kon Whiskey.” The slowest and strangest version of all (at 44:47) is the live 1969 Klemperer/Bavarian Radio (EMI), where the conductor deletes the entire 90-bar coda and replaces it with some very oddly harmonized passagework of his own. By the way, his daughter Lotte often told the story of how her father took a walk in Manhattan with Vox Records executive George Mendelssohn. They went to a record shop, where Klemperer wanted to buy some of his own Beethoven LPs. The clerk told him that many versions were in stock, but none by Klemperer: “Why do you want those?” The reply: “Because I am Klemperer!” Rolling his eyes, the clerk answered, “Really? And I suppose this fellow with you is Beethoven?” Klemperer growled back, “No, that’s Mendelssohn!”

FANFARE: Jeffrey J. Lipscomb
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Works on This Recording

Symphony no 3 in A minor, Op. 56 "Scottish" by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1842; Germany 
Symphony no 4 in A major, Op. 90 "Italian" by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Sir Georg Solti
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Israel Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1833; Germany 

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