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Mendelssohn: Symphonies 1&5, etc.-Philharmonia/Weller

February 2, 2013


Several days ago, this critic wrote a positive review of a recording of French works for violin by the Philharmonia Orchestra in London. Today, another Philharmonia recording is being reviewed, this time of Mendelssohn’s Hebrides Overture, his Symphony No.1, and his Symphony No. 5. Like the previous CD, this critic gives the recording a double thumbs-up. Weller, the conductor, handles the orchestra with a steady hand, and the Philharmonia reacts accordingly, adapting to Mendelssohn’s classical style with poise and skill. The music on the recording packs a punch on its own, but the Philharmonia’s astounding performance makes this disc  a memorable one that deserves a second listen.

The first work on the disc is this critic’s favorite, the Hebrides Overture, Op. 26. Written by the German Mendelssohn after visiting a cave on an island in Scotland, the piece is heavy at first, with long phrases in the strings acting as a motor that moves the piece forward. The Philharmonia’s dense string sound is perfect for this piece; the cello and contrabass sections give the piece depth, and the violin and viola sections contribute as well. Though the Hebrides may be weighty and even scary at the beginning, the ending is euphoric, building to an energizing climax that beautifully tapers away with the woodwinds. Many people, including this critic, have never heard of Walter Weller before, yet one can infer quickly after a hearing of the Hebrides that Weller knows how to shape the sound of an orchestra.

The next piece played is Mendelssohn’s First Symphony. The Philharmonia handles this well, and some rough spots in the strings can be overlooked if one considers that the orchestra properly captures the essence of the symphony. The highlight of the piece is perhaps the third movement, played with poise and character. The Philharmonia is a great orchestra, yet during this piece I realized that the violin sections, as in any group, have some trouble being together.

The CD concludes with Mendelssohn’s “Reformation” symphony, a truly blockbuster work. The first movement begins with a quiet andante section that gives way to a furious Allegro. The mistakes the Philharmonia made during the First Symphony could not be heard. The mere togetherness of the ensemble gives the piece enormous floor-shaking strength. If a listener only has a few moments, however, he should listen to the second movement of this symphony. Light, friendly, and inviting, it is perhaps this critic’s favorite stand-alone movement of both symphonies on the disc.

The Philharmonia is not perfect. As mentioned earlier, they do have some rough sections. However, they receive full credit for carrying out what Mendelssohn wrote with true zest. This is a recording every classical (and non-classical) listener should enjoy.


From → CD Reviews

One Comment
  1. thank you, I find his Symphony nr 5 rather stodgy ….

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