Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto In E Minor, Op. 64; Symphony No. 4 In A Major, Op. 90 'italian'

Regular price $16.99
Added to Cart! View cart or continue shopping.

MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in e. 1 Symphony No. 4 Nicholas McGegan, cond; 1 Zsolt Kalló (vn); Capella Savaria CENTAUR 3287 (56:03)

Before one chooses to skip this review, please note that these are different versions than usual of the thrice-familiar works presented here. The Violin Concerto is given in its original 1844 version, before the composer made several changes to the orchestration, and the “Italian” Symphony is performed here in the second version from 1834, in which the composer made numerous changes to the second, third, and fourth movements. The fact that he never got around to revising the first movement has convinced most orchestras, even to the present day, to play the original score, but Nicholas McGegan has here chosen to tack the original (untouched) first movement onto the revised remaining movements.

The ear picks up many, if not all, of the textural changes in the Violin Concerto: despite the use of a smallish orchestra playing period instruments, the sound is remarkably darker, almost ominous-sounding (against such a small orchestra, the timpani is particularly forward), although part of this impression is also conveyed by violinist Kalló’s method of inflection in his phrasing. It should be noted that he is not an imported soloist but, rather, the concertmaster of Capella Savaria, and a fine one he is, too. The liner notes by Katalin Tamás also make reference to differences in “the usage of the theme in various registers” as well as “in some unpredictable harmonic solutions.” But in the end, different edition or not, the final question is: is this performance convincing? And the answer is a resounding yes. McGegan is one of those very rare conductors, like Minkowski and Norrington, who know how to make a period orchestra “speak,” to give it nuance and expression, and in the end that is always more important than the specific medium (period instruments or whatever) being used. There is no question in my mind that this is one of the premier recordings of this warhorse. When the music shifts to the uptempo lilt of the third movement, Kalló is right there in mood, giving a lift to his bowing that practically spurt the notes out of his instrument; and here, in particular, the winds of Capella Savaria contribute most remarkably to the overall texture.

The “Italian” Symphony, likewise, gets off to a rousing start, the winds and strings joyously bouncing their way through the music. There is a noticeable accelerando at the end of this movement, driving the music home with panache. One of the first noticeable differences comes at the beginning of the second movement, where the “pilgrims’ march” is changed—subtly, but enough to make a difference in how the themes cohere. (Also, by using such a small orchestra, the clarinets sound so clear that they almost come across as recorders, a unique effect in my experience.) The third movement’s changes are largely in orchestration, too, but there is also a very surprising change from major to minor in the playing of the horns in their later reappearance that does not appear in the original version of the symphony. This harmonic change ties in to the brief minor theme of the full orchestra that is present in both versions.

The last movement Saltarello has a few changes, mostly in texture, but thanks to the incredible clarity and transparency of the orchestra and McGegan’s almost torrid pace, it sounds quite different from most versions. I did detect a few musical alterations here and there: little ones, but enough to make the movement sound more cohesive musically than it usually does (note particularly the swirling strings, a nice touch and a very original one). With such clear textures, even the string pizzicatos have more “bite” than they normally do, and the swirling string figures almost have the effect of a swarm of bees or hornets. I should also mention that these performances are given at A=430, a shade below modern pitch, for those who keep score on such things.

Overall, then, a most interesting and, I think, valuable addition to the Mendelssohn discography. Bravo to Kalló, McGegan, and the orchestra! And bravo, too, to engineer Miklós Csikós, who has kept everything forward and sharply etched in the soundspace so that no detail is lost.

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: CRC3287

  • UPC: 044747328720

  • Label: Centaur Records

  • Composer: Felix Mendelssohn

  • Conductor: Nicholas McGegan

  • Performer: Zsolt Kalló