Mendelssohn: Symphonies – No 3 in A minor, Op 56 (Scottish); No 4 in A major, Op 90 (Italian)

Reviewed on Mon 14 Mar, 2016

The Freiburger Barockorchester are particularly strict in their period practices, with austere vibrato-less strings, rasping brass and distinctive, if subdued, woodwinds. That woodwind sound dominates the Third Symphony (Scottish), and brings a completely new character to the piece.

Mendelssohn symphonies on period instruments: Frans Brüggen has been here before, and so has John Eliot Gardiner. The Freiburger Barockorchester are particularly strict in their period practices, with austere vibrato-less strings, rasping brass and distinctive, if subdued, woodwinds. That woodwind sound dominates the Third Symphony (Scottish), and brings a completely new character to the piece. In the Adagio, the brass and timpani are particularly menacing. Another asset is the string pianissimo, the clarity and precision of the ensemble uncompromised, even at the very lowest dynamics. But Pablo Heras-Casado plays it safe, delivering tidy and brisk readings, nimble, but rarely going to dynamic extremes or beyond standard tempo choices. He often seems to be fighting against the period practices – seeking brightness of tone where the instruments offer more opaque textures, or labouring ornaments and melodic runs that would come more naturally to modern instrument bands. An unusual and often attractive release, though, with audio up to Harmonia Mundi’s usual high standards.
–Gavin Dixon