Mendelssohn: Symphonies – No 4 in A major, Op 90 (Italian); No 5 in D minor, Op 107 (Reformation); The Hebrides – Overture, Op 26 (Fingal's Cave)

Reviewed on Mon 05 May, 2014

'Mendelssohn in Birmingham' proclaims the front cover of this first volume in a cycle of the composer's symphonies from the CBSO under its Principal Guest Conductor, Edward Gardner. Opulently recorded in the city's Town Hall (a venue where Mendelssohn conducted his own music), these are readings of delectable poise, tingling conviction and intrepid personality, full of fresh-faced poetry, crisp detail and many an illuminating touch that readily stoke the imagination – just listen to those gloriously evocative woodwind cries at the heart of The Hebrides overture. Some may feel that Gardner drives too hard at times (the 'Saltarello' finale of the Italian Symphony goes like the wind) but the swift speeds never once bring with them any suggestion of fluster or flashy display. Gardner proves especially adept at holding together the last two movements of the posthumously-published Reformation Symphony (No 5 but chronologically No 2), the grandiloquent coda both admirably unstuffy and a genuine summation of what has gone before. In short, a notable achievement – and good to hear that its successor (devoted to Symphonies Nos 1 and 3) is already safely in the can.
–Andrew Achenbach