Notes and Editorial Reviews
Symphony No. 2,
Andrés Orozco-Estrada, cond; Christiane Oelze, Simona ?aturová (sop); Ian Bostridge (ten); Sine Nomine Ch; Lower Austria Tonkünstler O
PREISER 90796 (SACD: 64: 06) Live: Vienna 10/1–3/2010
This spirited and sweeping live performance of Mendelssohn’s Second Symphony should go a long way toward solving any structural problems thought to be inherent in the piece. It is almost hard to recall that 40 years ago, before
Karajan’s magisterial account on DG, the performing world had largely given up on the music, and no easily available recordings were to be found. Anyone hearing the noble opening trombone fanfare/chorale for the first time will surely be stunned that this could ever have been the case. It is one of the most memorable and uplifting tunes in all of music. And the three instrumental movements are as perfectly worked out as anything Mendelssohn ever wrote. The slow movement is probably his best, avoiding the stasis found in the “Scottish” Symphony but not too short, like that in the “Reformation.”
But from the outset interpreters have always faced a “Three Bears” quandary in this piece. Is it an oratorio with three symphonic movements? To be done with operatic drama? Or a symphony with big choral elements and small, forward-moving solo moments? Andrés Orozco-Estrada opts very definitely for the latter, and I think he has gotten the porridge just right. We know from Clara Schumann’s diaries that Mendelssohn favored swift tempos, and simply to experience consistent forward motion throughout this symphony seems to solve virtually all the problems supposedly associated with it. In particular, it prevents the elephantiasis that can often afflict choral works taken too slowly.
There is a Dohnányi CD available on London with the Vienna Philharmonic that comes across as an awkward opera introduced by a wooden fanfare, inappropriately thundering timpani, and gaping moments of stasis. In all probability this is the sort of approach that doomed the piece. The beauty of Orozco-Estrada’s performance, by contrast, is the perfection of its sense of scale.
The orchestra sounds to be about 60 strong, big enough for real warmth and soft landings at cadences, but small enough to have to keep moving, and the chorus blends finely, with just the right amount of heft. The great chorale “Nun danket alle Gott” is sensitively but swiftly managed. One gratefully notices that the soloists, very fine in themselves, fit perfectly into the sonic picture, remaining on stage rather than appearing as unpleasant holograms inches from one’s face. And the Musikverein acoustic is a real hero. Even with an audience, there is just the right amount of space and clarity in the sound and plenty of enjoyable out-of-phase bass on my surround setup, which features ambience retrieval. Proper SACD playback should be just about ideal. This is live recording without any sense of compromise. No harsh microphones too close to the strings. Just an exciting sense of being there. Performed this way, the “Lobgesang” should be hard to resist. One looks forward to more from Orozco-Estrada. Meantime, put on this CD for a Sunday morning and jump in the shower. The suds will fly!
FANFARE: Steven Kruger
Works on This Recording
Symphony no 2 in B flat major, Op. 52 "Lobgesang" by Felix Mendelssohn
Simona Saturová (Soprano),
Ian Bostridge (Tenor),
Christiane Oelze (Soprano)
Lower Austrian Tonkünstler Orchestra,
Chorus Sine Nomine
Written: 1840; Germany
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