MENDELSSOHN Symphonies: No. 1 in c (arr. Mendelssohn). No. 5 in d, “Reformation” (arr. Friedrich Herrmann). Ruy Blas (arr. Buchard). The Hebrides (arr. Buchard) • Gerald Fauth (pn); Olga Gollej (pn); Andreas Seidel (vn); Matthias Moosdorf (vc) • MDG 3071469 (70:29)
I rushed up the drive, burst throughRead more the door, sat down on my chair, and looked carefully after unwrapping this new disc of Mendelssohn from Tenafly. “Wait a minute—arranged for two strings, and piano four hands? What nonsense! Ugh!” But duty spoke otherwise, and integrity beckoned. “I’ll have to put it on at least once.” Why this acerbic reaction? Because nine times out of 10, this kind of thing is not only superfluous, but substandard as well. Even the well-known Liszt transcriptions of Beethoven symphonies et alia fail to register with me on the must-hear meter.
The strains of The Hebrides enveloped my ears. “You know, this is kind of nice,” I thought. With sober alertness and anticipation, I started the “Reformation” Symphony, and it increased my delight. This is no hackwork, or dull routine, but a superior arrangement, brilliant, clean, and best of all, enlightening. It’s a pure transformation of this popular D-Minor opus that makes any objections seem completely stilted and foolish. The other pieces are all equally fine, the listening a surprising pleasure.
Mendelssohn himself arranged Symphony No. 1 and published it first, before the orchestral version was done. The late-19th-century publishers Buchard and Hermann made lots of money off arranging the other works here, taking advantage of the then-popular practice of home playing, and it must be said that they did a fine job. The performances here are both committed and polished; they don’t seem the least bit harried or frivolous. The quicksilver piano and warm violin and cello show Mendelssohn at his best, forthright, uncomplicated, and eminently engaging. Will I banish the orchestra, and supplant it with this? Hardly! But with realistic, vibrant, great MDG sound and exciting renditions, it pays once in a while, to buck the tradition and bite the bullet on previously made assumptions. This is generally recommended to all comers.