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Mendelssohn Discoveries / Chailly, Prosseda, Gewandhaus Orchesta

Release Date: 10/06/2009 
Label:  Decca   Catalog #: 001328002   Spars Code: n/a 
Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Roberto Prosseda
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
Length: 1 Hours 10 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MENDELSSOHN Symphony No. 3, “Scottish” (Original). Piano Concerto in e. 1 Hebrides Overture, “Fingal’s Cave” (Original ) Riccardo Chailly, cond; Roberto Prosseda (pn); 1 Leipzig Gewandhaus O DECCA 4781525 (69:40)

The question of what is valid in art music may never be properly answered, neither the Read more question of when to leave a composer’s unfinished or revised music well enough alone, but we live in an era when the discovery of every two-page manuscript by Bach that has been used as a coffee strainer for 250 years is celebrated as a major artistic event, so it stands to reason that in the bicentennial year of Mendelssohn’s birth (2009), we simply had to be treated to undiscovered, unformed and/or early scores suddenly dressed up and ready for performance.

In the case of the Third Symphony and Hebrides Overture (aka “Fingal’s Cave”), it was simply a matter of applying CPR to an original score that contained new material or different orchestration. Decca even went so far as to give us a 55-second snippet of the original opening of the Third Symphony, just so we can hear slightly different rhythms and a couple of different notes within that first minute. Oh joy and rapture unrestrained. But, of course, the bottom line is how well the original versions of Symphony No. 3 and “Fingal’s Cave” work, and in the first instance I would say very well indeed. The newly expanded development section in the first movement is uncharacteristically long for Mendelssohn (probably the reason he rejected it) yet excellent, and it really doesn’t overstay its welcome. Chailly’s performance not only has the energy and frisson of Norrington (EMI) and Solti (Decca), but a command of nuance and a nudging-forward of the rhythm that they did not. Case in point: he conducts the first movement, which has no less than 39 bars of new music, in 14:35. Norrington, who sounds pretty quick, takes 15:16; Solti takes 15:35; and Hanover Band takes 15:03; and Colin Davis (Profil) takes 14:53. But of course, speed alone is not the qualifier as to why this is, to me, one of the greatest of all Mendelssohn Thirds. Rather, it is Chailly’s outstanding use of dynamics and time suspension to create drama. Even when he pauses, you hold your breath expecting the next phrase or section to appear. He also creates wonderful clarity within the sections, though in this case Decca’s modern sonics seem to me softer and more “gooshy” than in the past. Thus the winds and strings are not quite as clear here as they are in the Solti, also recorded by Decca, although back in 1986.

The Piano Concerto is a stickier wicket. No one in the art world (well, at least I hope no one in the art world) would even remotely consider crazy-gluing arms back on Venus de Milo or rebuilding the Parthenon to create a heck of a shopping mall, but over the past half-century the craze has been if the composer left it unfinished, let’s help the poor guy out and finish it for him. Mahler’s 10th Symphony, Berg’s Lulu , Beethoven’s 10th, Ives’s Universe Symphony , and of course that botch job known as Schubert’s “finished” unfinished symphony, have all undergone mild to radical note surgery to replace missing limbs—er, acts or movements. This Piano Concerto is perhaps the biggest Frankenstein monster produced since the Beethoven 10th because only a few bars of the third movement are even by Mendelssohn! Musicologist Marcello Bufalini, finding that Menselssohn envisioned a sad, wistful third movement (sketchy though it was, what survived was in that vein), decided that no one wants to leave a concerto or concert hall in a wistful mood, so let’s throw it all out the window except for those few bars of solo piano, which we’ll use for the cadenza, and write an entirely new and original third movement “in the style of Mendelssohn” that finishes the concerto with a bang.

Well, the good news is, it actually works as far as Bufalini’s intent is concerned. It doesn’t sound like top-drawer Mendelssohn, but it does sound like him, much more so than the third act of Turandot sounds like Puccini. It’s not a bad piece at all, and proves that Bufalini has a latent talent for pastiche. The only problem is that you now can’t really call it a Mendelssohn concerto because, no matter how much you like this third movement, it’s not only not by the composer but not his intention. Thus, I believe that the work should be ascribed to Mendelssohn-Bufalini. It is as much a partnership as Turandot , which I’ve always felt should be credited to Puccini-Alfano, except that Alfano’s name on the marquee probably wouldn’t sell tickets. (Wouldn’t it be ironic if we discovered that Alfano actually wrote “Nessun dorma,” and that all of these pop versions of the aria should be paying royalties to Franco Alfano’s survivors instead of Puccini’s? Just joking, but it’s a thought.)

Prossada is a typical modern virtuoso, crisp, clean, essentially musical, dynamically exciting, and lacking any individuality or personality. Not so much a negative criticism as merely an observation. If you heard him in the concert hall I’m sure you’d be exhilarated and walk out smiling, but playing any concerto in a crisp, clean, energetic fashion without something a bit individual only goes so far and may predict sameness in this artist’s future. Yet it’s a wonderful performance of a brilliantly pieced-together pastiche.

The Hebrides Overture , to my mind, suffers just a bit from the extra notes that have now been crammed back into it (43 bars, to be exact), though Chailly’s performance is lucid and lively, much finer than those of Dohnányi or the Hanover Band. Perhaps you may feel differently.

I cannot, for the life of me, understand why Riccardo Chailly—though well known and respected—has failed to generate the kind of international superstardom accorded in the past to Karajan or Solti, or in the present to such lesser lights as Paavo Järvi and Kurt Masur. This is a major talent who illuminates every piece of music he conducts; I have yet to hear a bad Chailly recording, and most are top on my list of choices. Except for the over-roomy, reverberant sound quality, 10 stars, easily.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Piano in E minor by Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Roberto Prosseda (Piano)
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: ?1842-44; Germany 
Hebrides Overture, in B minor Op. 26 "Fingal's Cave" by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1829-1832; Rome, Italy 
Symphony no 3 in A minor, Op. 56 "Scottish" by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Riccardo Chailly
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1842; Germany 

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