Notes and Editorial Reviews
This makes an ideal Mendelssohn coupling, and I am surprised that (so far as I remember) no one has offered it before. Anyone just wanting a single record to represent Mendelssohn's orchestral music can hardly do better, for Previn's readings are characteristically resilient and refreshing with consistently fine articulation of Mendelssohn's often busy string writing and warm, full-ranging recording.
It may be unfortunate for EMI that RCA has just reissued on its mid-price Gold Seal label the equally excellent Previn/LSO version of the Symphony from 1971, and that too has Ruy Blas on the reverse though with Prokofiev's Classical Symphony as an odder choice of fill-up. As I said in June it remains among the very finest
recommendations of all with beautifully balanced sound. The new HMV version has an obvious advantage in an extended range, though the string balance in Ruy Bias and the Hebrides is a little backward. A Midsummer Night's Dream is, of course, a different vintage recording, taken as it is from Previn's complete version of the incidental music.
Any reservations over recording balance are very minimal indeed, and such differences as there are between the RCA and HMV versions in the interpretation of the Symphony and of Ruy Bias are in the new disc's favour. At the very start of the first movement it is striking that the skipping rhythms are even more lighthearted this time with delectable pointing of transition passages. The pilgrim's march, which on the RCA version was just a fraction on the fast side, is now ideally paced, exactly between Previn's old tempo and that of Bernstein on his superb Israel Philharmonic version reviewed by TH oh this page. Previn too now makes it more clearly a contrast between a slow movement and a flowing third movement, and, as before, he gives the reprise an exhilarating lift at the culminating point. In the finale, the tempi of Previn this time and last, as well as of Bernstein, are virtually identical—fast and urgent but superbly clear and precise in execution. If Bernstein (inspired no doubt by making his record at a live concert) relates this music more to Mendelssohn's fairy music, drawing superbly delicate playing from the Israeli woodwind, Previn in the finale is a degree fiercer with the unrelenting Saltarello rhythms. Both now stand as outstanding versions, among the very finest of all. One interesting textual point arises in Ruy Bias when this time (but not on the RCA disc) Previn gives the rising chromatics at bars 397-400 to the trumpet rather than the trombone, bringing out to telling effect a rising line normally obscured. Purists may object, but it strikes me as an obvious gain. The Hebrides is given a comparably refreshing reading, and the only controversial point to note is Previn's reading of tranquillo assai when on the clarinet's reprise of the second subject he slows the tempo markedly, a tender farewell to the Overture's loveliest idea before Hebridean storms return.
-- Edward Greenfield, Gramophone [11/1979, reviewing the original LP release]
Works on This Recording
Ruy Blas Overture, Op. 95 by Felix Mendelssohn
London Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1839; Germany
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