Notes and Editorial Reviews
At last my complaints about the unavailability of Toscanini's magnificent performance of the Reformation are dimmed if not entirely silenced. Maazel in his way is just as remarkable in making this seem a neglected masterpiece. If anything, in the first movement he provides even greater intensity than Toscanini with the great Dresden Amen of the slow introduction welling up powerfully and erupting into a superbly vigorous account of the allegro beside which Paray's interpretation, for example, sounds underpowered. Maazel also has the advantage of D.G.G.'s most atmospheric recording, warm and reverberant in the Berlin manner but brilliant too.
In the scherzo there is no doubt at all in my mind that Maazel with his delicacy comes
much closer to the true Mendelssohnian spirit than Toscanini. He treats the slow movement justifiably as a prelude to the finale, the passage in which tension is built up. Toscanini is slower here, nobler and more spacious. The finale proper is also faster under Maazel than Toscanini, and he does not quite achieve the same massive strength at the end, but it is still a glowing performance which should attract many new converts to the work.
- Gramophone [September 1961]
This CD preserves a phenomenon: a "Living Legend" (to borrow from BMG's current Maazel puffery) in the making. Appreciative insert-notes from RL describe features of Maazel's work of the period — freshness of vision and youthful vitality tempered by a feeling for line and a classical poise — to which I might add a more timeless Maazel characteristic: a sensational command of the orchestra. Both orchestras were at their then (1961) finest, and there are countless examples of expressive shaping, pointing (the Mendelssohn second movement) and shading (the shadowed mystery at the start and centre of the Franck). Just occasionally, you are aware of command overexercised: the finale of the Franck has one or two radical swells and drastic diminuendos and pianissimos (the extent of the dynamic control seems an end in itself). And I would question some of Maazel's more racy tempos. The very mobile Allegretto central movement of the Franck works like a dream (it is seraphic rather than sentimental).
But the finale of the Mendelssohn? This is admittedly a 'problem' movement, inclined to sound foursquare if not dispatched with a certain dash. Maazel's quick march here solves the problem, but leaves little room for airy celebration and final elation. The recordings (and doubtless their remastering) contribute to the lean-and-hungry impression of the performances: always superbly clear (the windband sonorities in the Mendelssohn symphony, and their wide disposition, are thrilling), but wanting warmth and space in fortissimo tuttis (those of the Franck are often strident and hectoring).
- Gramophone [December 1996]
Works on This Recording
Symphony in D minor, M 48 by César Franck
Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra
Written: 1886-1888; France
Date of Recording: 01/1961
Symphony no 5 in D major, Op. 107 "Reformation" by Felix Mendelssohn
Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra
Written: 1832; Germany
Date of Recording: 01/1961
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