Felix Mendelssohn – Symphonies Nos. 4 & 5
Andrew Manze, conductor
After the recording dedicated to Mendelssohn’s Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3, Andrew Manze and the NDR Radiophilharmonie add another instalment with the performance of the Symphonies No. 4 & 5, the so-called “Italian” and “Reformation” symphonies written in 1833 and 1829-1830 respectively. In this way, this recording brings together the liveliness of the fourth symphony and the solemnity of the fifth, so that it is divided into two neat halves, so that the only features they have in common are the excellently recorded sound and Andrew Manze’s identical methodical precision.
The Symphonies were recorded at a distance of one year at the Großer Sendesaal des NDR Landesfunkhaus Hannover. What characterizes both of them, is Andrew Manze’s almost poetical lightness, to which the shimmering colours of the orchestra add brightness and intensity.
Measure and precision does not spoil but rather enhance the glorious first movement of the “Italian” Symphony. This Allegro vivace is luminous, joyful and reminds of a clear, cloudless sky in a sunny day. All the nuances of the orchestra outline a completely positive picture. The second movement revels an even more extensive use of these bright colours, alternating them to incredibly soft playing. The third movement has a dreamlike atmosphere. Everything, from the silky playing of the woodwinds to the vibrant sound of the brasses, is lyrical and even bucolic. The fourth symphony would have ended well with a much more animated Salterello. Instead, this movement retains its brilliance, but lacks the impatient exuberance which usually makes it irresistible.
Due to the not completely satisfactory finale of the fourth symphony, the “Reformation” Symphony seems much more coherent and harmonious. Manze finds the way to express at the same time two of the most antithetical things in the world: a sensitive, even intimate approach, and a grave, solemn display. Although the symphony is serious in its character, this feeling never borders on pessimism, but only on a delicate sense of nostalgia and melancholy.
The first movement is quite grave but an inner thoughtfulness lights up the atmosphere, while the brasses add vigour and resplendence. In the Allegro vivace, its almost innate exuberance is somehow offset by its own dance-like elegance. The Andante and Recitativo counterbalance their pensiveness with the rich colours of the orchestral palette. Finally, the last movement appears as the synthesis of the previous ones. Its sumptuousness, which is very formal at the beginning, becomes radiant and magnificent in the development of the movement. Above all, however, there is the usual delicacy that balanced so well seriousness with grace and that is the main feature of this rendition.