Review by seth March 30, 2006 (7 of 8 found this review helpful)
|If you’re going to own only one disc of Mendelssohn’s orchestral music, this is the one to own.
Mendelssohn is often written-off as a lightweight early romantic composer (despite the undeniable brilliance of such works as the Octet, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” Overture and the Violin Concerto). Like Mozart, because Mendelssohn’s music unfolds so effortlessly, it masks its genius. Disinterested performers shower us with bland and fluffy performances where they try to concoct some kind of late romantic thick texture from the music. Enter George Szell to the rescue.
Szell conducts Mendelssohn like his Mozart: swift and lean. The most important contribution from Szell, though, is how rhythmically tight he has the music played. The opening movement of the “Italian” is a tour-de-force. The music burst forth and hits you like a wall of bricks. Szell is also more forceful than others; the last movement is unusually intense and dramatic. Cleveland’s trademarked razor sharp playing and ultra clean phrasing are a crucial component to these highly successful performances, especially the way in which they bring forth Mendelssohn’s unique woodwind writing.
The excerpts from “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” exhibit these same qualities. The Orchestra perfectly nails the big tutti in the overture, playing up the sense of triumph as far as it can go. In the Scherzo Szell vainly shows of the virtuosity of his orchestra.
But don’t think that Szell is just hard driven. In the slow movements all of Mendelssohn’s lyricism and elegance are there, which is crucial in “Fingal’s Cave.”
While the recorded sound may not be as crisp and vivid as more modern recordings, I find it to be highly enjoyable. It’s big, warm, reasonably spacious, natural sounding timbres and quite pleasurable when cranked up loud. Tape hiss is minimal.
It’s definitely worth picking up this disc before it vanishes into oblivion, especially since the CD versions of it are OOP.
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