Yes, again no post in 2 weeks, but I assume you don’t want to hear my lame excuses (too much work, family, etc.).
So let me start with a spoiler alert (actually, a bit late given that the title already gives it away), this will be a relatively useless review. I’ll actually be writing only about 2 out of 5 symphonies, and you won’t even get a proper review, just a very subjective “I like it, but”, with out getting any more specific.
I haven’t written that much about Mendelssohn yet. And this is not because I don’t like the composer, to the contrary. I adore his Lieder ohne Worte (Song without Words), and have written about them here.
I also very much like his violin concerto, and have mentioned Janine Jansen’s recording among my 25 Essential Classical albums.
But I haven’t really written about his symphonies yet. Why is that? Well, for once, I really only like symphonies 3 and 4, the Scottish and the Italian. No. 1 and 2 never touched me, and the reformation was with the exception of certain elements also not really my cup of tea.
Furthermore, I have yet to find my preferred set of these two. I still often go back to Christoph von Dohnanyi’s or Claudio Abbado’s old recordings.
I was very hopeful for the recent approach of Heras-Casado with the Freiburgers, but again, wasn’t convinced.
Therefore, I obviously immediately had to check out a new version by Yannick Nézet-Séguin with the COE.
Mendelssohn: The Symphonies – Yannick Nézet-Séguin – Chanber Orchestra of Europe (DG 2017)
Some critics say he has too many orchestras, having been involved with the COE, the Philadelphia, and the Rotterdam, to just name some, but he still is one of the most promising conductors of our time.
So, after this long intro, what about his Mendelssohn?
As mentioned above, I’m not too familiar with Symphonies 1, 2, and 5, and will leave the judgment to others.
But for 3 and 4, I do have an opinion. I can simply say, after at least 4-5 listenings, this is a 4 star recording to me. Lots of energy, punch at the right places, enough darkness in the Scottish, enough lightness in the Italian (but with a twist).
So what is wrong, why not 5 stars? And here is again where I get useless. There is something missing, but I simply cannot put my finger on it. This will be a version that I’ll go to again many times, but will it be my reference? Probably not.
But then again, as mentioned above, I really don’t have a reference yet. Maybe the seemingly accessible symphonies 3 and 4 have some dirty secret, that just make them impossible to master. I’ll keep looking.
I’m curious what the professional reviewers will be saying (at the time of writing, I haven’t seen any reviews out there yet).
In the meantime, check out this recording. You won’t be disappointed, I promise, in spite of my rather useless review.
My rating: 4 stars
UPDATE Aug 11: In their September issue, Gramophone awards this box a Recording Of The Month. Richard Wigmore is talking about “imaginative, fabulously executed performances” that “guarantee abiding pleasure”.
UPDATE August 26: to add some further confusion: The Guardian give this box a 3 star rating only, calling technically ok but artistically not adding a lot. I guess you’ll really have to make up your own mind on this recording.
UPDATE Sep 3: also only 3 stars from the French Classica. So really your call. In a nutshell: Listen before you buy!
UPDATE Sep 10: Classics Today’s Victor Carr Jr gives 6 out of 10 points for this album, calling it a “rather pathetic drag”.