Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the London Symphony Orchestra join forces once again in the latest instalment of their exploration of Mendelssohn’s symphonies. Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 5, commonly known as the ‘Reformation’ Symphony, was written in 1830 to commemorate the 300th anniversary of the Augsberg confession – a seminal event in the Protestant Reformation. Allusions to the symphony’s title and inspiration can be heard throughout the music itself; the Dresden Amen is cited by the strings in the first movement whilst the finale is based on Martin Luther’s well-known chorale Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott (‘A Mighty Fortress is Our God’). Coupled with this are two of Mendelssohn’s overtures, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage and Ruy Blas, both of which were inspired by literary works. Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage, based on two short poems by Goethe, depicts the journey of sailors at sea with a still adagio opening ultimately giving way to a triumphant homecoming. Completing the album, the overture Ruy Blas was commissioned by the Leipzig Theatre as an overture to Victor Hugo’s tragic drama of the same name.
…And, in fact, Elias has rarely been performed with greater respect for the original than it is here under the conductor Christoph Spering, who has recorded this “sacred opera” with his New Orchestra and the Chorus Musicus Köln in Essen’s Philharmonic Hall with the composer’s “dramatic ideal” fully in mind and heart. (…) The result was in fact an oratorio in opera form and a wealth of dramaturgical elements that absolutely enthralled the public. Fresh Interpretation Just as the composer would have wanted it, Christoph Spering has selected a full chorus and a magnificently dimensioned orchestra for this recording. The New Orchestra performs on historical instruments and in the two years since its founding has gained renown as an outstanding interpreter of the music of the romantic era. (…) Brisk tempos, sharp delineation, powerful expression, and interpretive freshness are the hallmarks of this new discovery for the MDG Live label.
Finally, Mendelssohn's string quartets are hitting the big time. Over the past decade, there have been more and, for the most part, better recordings of his quartets that at any time in history. Think of the Alban Berg Quartet's brilliantly bracing recording or the Quatuor Mosaïques' fervently soulful recording. Of course, there have also been some fairly mediocre recordings – think of the Emerson's recklessly energetic recording – and merely passable recordings – think of the Henschel's hastily enthusiastic recording.
In 1832 Felix Mendelssohn (1809-47) wrote to his sister Fanny that is what about time he wrote some ‘good trios’. He had already started but left unfinished a trio for piano, violin and viola, and started the D minor trio shortly after, completing it in 1839. Mendelssohn’s friend the composer-pianist Ferdinand Hiller advised him after the completion to make several revisions to make the work sound as up to date as possible – Hiller, was a pupil of Hummel was a keen supporter of Berlioz and Liszt. The result is a work of perfect proportions, with a brilliant piano part, skilful counterpoint and a wonderful blend of classical poise and romantic passion. Schumann reviewing the Leipzig premiere on 1840 commented that the trio was a masterpiece that would ‘bring joy to our children and grandchildren’. The 2nd trio is dedicated to the great German violinist and composer Louis Spohr.