Mendelssohn's warmly lyrical and evocative Scottish Symphony is paired with his confident and precocious first symphony for the first in a series of recordings by the conductor Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie. It's no wonder that Robert Schumann dubbed Mendelssohn the "Mozart of the nineteenth century"; with his felicitous gift for melody and meticulous craftsmanship, his music positively brims with youthful spontaneity and exuberance, blending dreamy poetic flights with moments of affecting tenderness and serenity. Inspired by his visits to Scotland and the Hebrides and the romantic novels of Sir Walter Scott, his outstanding Symphony No. 3 in A minor is a colorful reminiscence of its rugged landscapes steeped inRead more history, and an affectionate homage to the proud Highlanders he met there. It was an instant success on its first performance and rivals the popularity of the overture The Hebrides, also inspired by the splendor of Scotland. No less impressive in his masterly Symphony No. 1 in C minor, composed when he was just 15 years old. From its noisy and impetuous opening to its triumphant conclusion, this confident and adventurous work shows the influence of Mozart, haydn and Weber but the effect is unmistakeably Mendelssohnian with fugal passages, unforgettable melodies and busy, inventive scoring.
In the Third, Manze encourages his excellent modern-instrument orchestra to play with a period lightness, paring down the string tone (vibrato sparingly but expressively applied) and giving close attention to wind detail and internal balance. The Adagio, taken at a flowing but flexible tempo, has a chaste beauty, the violin melody eloquently sung yet with Mendelssohn’s prescribed bowing, dynamics and accents precisely observed—a world away from the undifferentiated sostenuto of many older conductors. As to the symphony’s ‘problematic’ coda, after listening to Manze’s mounting exhilaration, culminating in a final euphoric blaze, you might wonder what all the fuss was about.