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Mendelssohn: The Five Symphonies / Dohnanyi, Vienna Phil


Release Date: 11/10/2009 
Label:  London/Decca Jubilee Catalog #: 421769   Spars Code: ADD 
Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Number of Discs: 3 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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This CD is reissued by ArkivMusic.

Notes and Editorial Reviews

Dohnanyi completed his recording of all five Mendelssohn symphonies between [1976 and 1978, ending with the Italian, which was one of the first digital recordings that Decca issued. For whatever reason, the series was never released as a set, but now this compilation is most welcome, providing a very useful alternative to the excellent four-disc Abbado/DG set.

The first disc has Nos. 1 and 5, which were coupled on the original LP issue, but now Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage comes as a bonus. The Lobgesang is complete on the second disc, and the third is a re-pressing of the issue which has already appeared on CD on the Decca Ovation series, with the Hebrides Overture coming between the Scottish and Italian Symphonies.
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Interpretatively too, Dohnanyi's set presents a clear alternative, when generally his approach is consistently more direct, often relying on faster speeds and more clearly rebutting any idea that this music might be sentimental. The obverse of that is that A bbado gives the more affectionate performances, pointed more subtly.

The most striking contrast comes in the Lobgesang, and the overall timings of each give an indication of the difference, when Dohnanyi's performance is very nearly eight minutes quicker than Abbado's—an amazing discrepancy. In the Allegretto Scherzo the whole character of the music is altered, with Dohnanyi emphasizing that it is a scherzo. Abbado in his pure, refined way carefully avoids Victorian sentimentality, but his view may well be too sweet for some, in which case Dohnanyi provides an excellent answer, consistently bright and fresh with the choral sound in the oratorio-finale more sharply focused, and with more presence, even though generally the DG sound has extra range and weight. With first-rate solo and choral singing it is an excellent version, and I hope that Decca will issue it separately.

One snag about the other two discs is that unlike Abbado, Dohnanyi does not observe exposition repeats, and in the Italian at least that means the loss of the substantial lead-back passage in the first movement. Interestingly, the second movement of the First Symphony brings a reversal of the usual contrast between Dohnanyi and Abbado, when the Vienna performance is the one which is more warmly relaxed and affectionate.

The 1970s Decca sound is excellent, bright and beautifully focused in the CD transfer, whether an analogue or digital original. The Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, like the Italian Symphony, is in digital sound, which even now approaches demonstration quality—perhaps the reason it was allotted the very first band on the set. The Italian is more brightly lit with a degree of edge, but all these recordings were made in the Sofiensaal, where the Decca engineers were always at their happiest, and are all outstanding for their period.

-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [6/1989]
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Works on This Recording

1. Symphony no 1 in C minor, Op. 11 by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1824; Germany 
2. Symphony no 2 in B flat major, Op. 52 "Lobgesang" by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1840; Germany 
Language: German 
3. Symphony no 3 in A minor, Op. 56 "Scottish" by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1842; Germany 
4. Symphony no 4 in A major, Op. 90 "Italian" by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1833; Germany 
5. Symphony no 5 in D major, Op. 107 "Reformation" by Felix Mendelssohn
Conductor:  Christoph von Dohnányi
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1832; Germany 

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