Symphonies nos. 1 and 2 (Masur)

Symphony no. 1 in C minor, op. 11; Symphony no. 2 in B flat, op. 52 (Hymn of Praise). Casapietra, Stolte, Schreier/Rundfunk-chor Leipzig/Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra/Kurt Masur    


The same agreeable features emerge from Mendelssohn's music and letters as from his portraits. One of the most engaging is his total commitment to the idea of communal solidarity (never of class distinction). The domestic circle was his juste milieu. The 17 symphonies form just such a family group: the little ones (with leading strings) eager and active, the older ones sober and reflective, as if preparing to enter the Church. Op. 11 has the academic temperament. But (rather surprisingly) it still has a lot to learn; thus it is the scoring as much as the performance that renders the flute melody inaudible in III/3-4. The work is played for all it is worth on this record, without ever sounding very much more than the end of the beginning of Mendelssohn's symphonic writing. Perhaps it should be renumbered from 1 to 13. That would leave a group of four mature symphonies; two national, and two denom­inational. Lobgesang, the later of the latter, dates from 1840. It was written in wholehearted con­viction and demands no less from its interpreters. It may be difficult to break forth like a fire in formal fugato, or to appear like burning torches in a sedate 6/8. But the illusion must somehow be created, or it becomes impossible to believe.

    One may have doubts on this score, in its present performance. Will the night soon pass? Sooner at Kurt Masur's speed than at Mendelssohn's. But the whole point is that the night took its time; the inquirer was consulting his watchman, not his watch. Again, one can readily recognize the risk that religioso might easily sound oh so religious. But it really was; and if Mendelssohn asks for Adagio shall he be given Andante? There is one redeeming feature: Peter Schreier. He performs the much-needed service of singing the words as if he meant them and as if they meant something. As a result, they do; and they give the music a new life of its own. “Drum sing ich mit meinem Liede ewig dein Lob, du treuer Gott”; musical and verbal cadence are alike evocative of high praise.

    So are the text and notes, which have been uncommonly well prepared and presented. It appears that Mendelssohn is rising on the East German horizon; the night is departing. Contra Wagner (and Bryan Magee) the idea of Judaism in music is officially denied. “There is not a single note in Mendelssohn's works which resembles synagogical chords”, we are assured. That's worth knowing; and at least we shall be spared a thesis on synagogics.



The Musical Times, Jun., 1974 (p. 484)© the estate of eric sams