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RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR

September

Brio and Mendelssohnian grace go hand in hand, buoyed by an agile, lissom bass line and violin-playing of thistledown delicacy

Richard Wigmore finds much to admire in Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s complete Mendelssohn symphonies, brilliantly played by the Chamber Orchestra of Europe

Mendelssohn Complete Symphonies Karina Gauvin, Regula Mühlemann sops Daniel Behle ten RIAS Chamber Choir; Chamber Orchestra of Europe / Yannick Nézet-Séguin DG M c 479 7337GH3 (3h 20’ • DDD • T/t) Recorded live at the Philharmonie de Paris, February 2016

Mendelssohn’s five numbered symphonies make a motley collection: a piece of precocious juvenilia, three ‘named’ symphonies, only one of which (the Scottish) the composer deemed worthy of publication, and the Lobgesang, a ‘symphony-cantata’ that found its way into the canon as No 2. Once criticised for being a pale simulacrum of Beethoven’s Ninth, the Lobgesang, like the Reformation, has benefited from a younger generation of conductors set on stripping the music of Victorian complacency and grandiloquence. Andrew Litton (BIS, 9/09) and Thomas Fey (Hänssler, 6/10) did just that. In their new Mendelssohn cycle, recorded at concerts in Paris, Yannick Nézet-Séguin and the brilliant Chamber Orchestra of Europe follow suit, marrying sinew, clarity and point of detail and – a hallmark of their performances thoughout these discs – unerring control of tension. With a subtle fluidity of pulse, Nézet

Séguin minimises the dangers of rhythmic squareness in the first movement. I don’t hear Mendelssohn’s prescribed poco agitato in the Allegretto second movement, though it beguiles with its caressing delicacy. Here and elsewhere the COE woodwind are superlative, individually and in consort. And the Adagio religioso (lovely veiled strings at the opening), shorn of ponderousness, emerges with an essentially Mendelssohnian quality of innocence.

Conductor and orchestra show the same vitality and care for instrumental colour and balancing in the choral sections, from the murmuring idyll of ‘Sagt es, die ihr erlöset seid’ to the exultancy of ‘Die Nacht ist vergangen’, euphorically launched by Karina Gauvin. Once over a slightly squally first entry, Gauvin impresses with her full, warm tone and verbal sensitivity, while tenor Daniel Behle matches Litton’s Christoph Prégardien in the anxious questioning of ‘Ist die Nacht bald hin?’ and surpasses him in lyrical allure. My only real caveat is that the impact of the excellent RIAS chorus is rather muted in the resonant acoustic.

Like the Lobgesang, the once-derided (including by the composer) Reformation is hard to meld into a satisfying structural entity. Nézet-Séguin, persuasively to my ears,

prioritises lyricism and grace, without shortchanging the first movement’s con fuoco marking. Here and in the finale his gift for building tension over long spans ensures that the music never merely happens. Spurred on by athletically sparring divisi violins, the first movement drives to a fine, searing climax, while the finale darts and leaps jubilantly, with no whiff of pomposity in the marching second theme that irresistibly evokes ‘O my darling Clementine’. Delightful, too, are the airy, chamber-musical textures of the Scherzo and PHO T O G R A P H Y

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20 GRAMOPHONE RECORDINGS OF THE YEAR 2017

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