Mendelssohn: Symphony No 5 in D minor, Op 107 (Reformation); The Hebrides – Concert Overture, Op 26; Violin Concerto in E minor, Op 64

Reviewed on Mon 30 Oct, 2017

Isabelle Faust plays with immaculate technical address but consciously pares down the tone of her 1704 'Sleeping Beauty' Stradivarius ... the romantic glow customarily distilled by this entrancing score replaced by something altogether more fragile, nervier and questingly personal.

Realistically engineered within the lively acoustic of Sala 1 Pau Casals at Barcelona's L'Auditori, the latest instalment in Pablo Heras-Casado's period-instrument Mendelssohn series for Harmonia Mundi with the superb Freiburg Baroque Orchestra brings characteristically lithe and muscular readings of the Hebrides Overture and Fifth Symphony, the latter especially invigorating in its bracing bite, poise and interpretative chutzpah. Unlike Antonello Manacorda (Sony Classical, enthusiastically welcomed by Rob Cowan on 5 June 2017) and Yannick Nézet-Séguin (DG), Heras-Casado chooses not to restore the haunting woodwind dialogue linking the last two movements that Mendelssohn cut from the final version. The performance of the Violin Concerto is much more likely to spark controversy. Isabelle Faust plays with immaculate technical address but consciously pares down the tone of her 1704 'Sleeping Beauty' Stradivarius (the opening bars will make you sit up and listen!), the romantic glow customarily distilled by this entrancing score's generous reserves of lyricism replaced by something altogether more fragile, nervier and questingly personal. Certainly, it's all bracingly – not to say startlingly – different from what we are used to hearing, and the disc as a whole pleasingly challenges and confounds in equal measure.
–Andrew Achenbach