Basing a Mendelssohn cycle on his appearances in Birmingham with the local band is a rather jejune connection. Was there anywhere Mendelssohn didn’t go? That said, I greatly enjoyed these performances in which Edward Gardner, yet another glamorous and talented young conductor, cuts a swathe through familiar works. I’ve never heard the last movement of the Italian Symphony dispatched with such brio. It’s altogether sunnier than Brüggen’s recent recording.
I also commend the way Gardner observes the first movement repeat, which has what must be the loveliest ‘lead backs’ in music.
The Reformation Symphony was composed to mark the 300th anniversary of the Augsburg Confession, a major milestone in the formation of the Lutheran Church. (Despite his Jewish heritage, Mendelssohn became a Lutheran convert.) In the Symphony, he uses ‘Catholic’ polyphony which is ultimately overcome by the Lutheran Chorale Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott. Scoring and structure are simultaneously grandly architectural and austere, though I was bemused to read one description of the waltz in the scherzo as “louche”. Calling anything by Mendelssohn “louche” is like saying one of Bruckner’s scherzos is “chic”. Chandos’s sound and the CBSO’s playing are gorgeous, especially the Principal Flute, which intones the hymn tune. This work deserves the same status in the concert hall as the Italian and Scottish symphonies.