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Mendelssohn: Symphonies 1 & 4, Hebrides Overture

Release Date: 08/11/2009 
Label:  Arte Nova   Catalog #: 340260   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Ross Pople
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Festival Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MENDELSSOHN The Hebrides Overture, “Fingal’s Cave.” Symphonies No. 1; No. 4, “Italian” Ross Pople, cond; London Festival O ARTE NOVA 340260 (68:27)

These are exciting performances of Mendelssohn’s early Symphony No. 1 and his slightly more mature Symphony No. 4, plus an atmospheric reading of the Hebrides Overture to open the disc. The Hebrides Overture is redolent with the restrained tension that gives the opening
Read more statement the windswept mystery of the Scottish coast. The Symphony No. 1, composed when Mendelssohn was 15 years old, is a more sophisticated extension of the 12 string symphonies, by the addition of winds, horns, and drums. Mendelssohn initially referred to the work as his Symphony No. 13 when composed in 1824. When published in 1834, it became Symphony No. 1; the string symphonies were not published until their discovery in the last half of the 20th century. This remarkably mature work predates his Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream by two years. Mendelssohn made an arrangement of his Scherzo in G Minor from the Octet, op. 20, to serve as a substitute for the third movement. This recording uses the original Menuetto— Allegro molto.

Mendelssohn apparently had plans to revise Symphony No. 4. After premiering the work in 1833, he seemed dissatisfied with it, especially the fourth movement, and withheld publication. Pre-echoes of material he was to compose as incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream can be heard in the Fourth Symphony, with its dancing triplets.

Much of Mendelssohn’s music, including the two symphonies on this Arte Nova disc, benefit from conducting that brings out the delicacy of his orchestrations. Ross Pople is among the conductors who achieve this transparency without sacrificing the drama. He finds an appropriate balance between the Classical and the Romantic, giving the music neither too much fragility nor too much weight. If you’re familiar with Claudio Abbado’s traversal of these works, you’re likely to find Pople’s interpretations very similar. Even the recorded sound on this Arte Nova album and the sonics on Abbado’s DG series is strikingly similar.

Ross Pople recorded all 12 of Mendelssohn’s string symphonies; it’s unfortunate he didn’t record all five of the mature symphonies, considering how good the performances on this album are. He captures the youthful zest of Symphony No. 1 and the Symphony No. 4 is sunny and full of life. Even the second movement of No. 4, the Andante con moto, shimmers like a full moon reflecting off a quiet lake with a rustle of a light breeze through the shore side forests. The third movement is played with grace and élan, the fourth movement has an infectious energy. Mendelssohn considered the Symphony No. 4 his most cheerful symphony, and Ross Pople and the London Festival O show us why. In the Symphony No. 1, Pople is very atmospheric in the Minuetto. It is light and delicate, with a bit of muscle pulling it along. There is irrepressible energy in the last movement, Allegro con fuoco.

In the absence of the other three mature symphonies, this Pople/Arte Nova album makes a welcome addition to a library that includes anthologies of all five symphonies for full orchestra. In addition to the Abbado (DG), Pople compares favorably to the same works on complete sets by Ashkenazy (Decca) and Dohnányi (Decca). The Arte Nova sonics are very clear, with an ambience that is warm and pleasing to the ear. The music is never blurred by unnecessary overtones. The dates 1995/96 are printed on the back liner. I suspect this 2009 release may be a reissue. I had not encountered it before, but in the dozen or more times I’ve played it for this review, it has never worn out its welcome.

FANFARE: David L. Kirk Read less

Works on This Recording

Hebrides Overture, in B minor Op. 26 "Fingal's Cave" by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Ross Pople
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Festival Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1829-1832; Rome, Italy 
Length: 9 Minutes 53 Secs. 
Symphony no 1 in C minor, Op. 11 by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Ross Pople
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Festival Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1824; Germany 
Length: 29 Minutes 12 Secs. 
Symphony no 4 in A major, Op. 90 "Italian" by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Ross Pople
Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Festival Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1833; Germany 
Length: 28 Minutes 37 Secs. 

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