Good Romantic Mendelssohn
Neil Ford | Sydney, Australia | 07/04/2006
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Surprisingly, this Mendelssohn cycle has not yet been reviewed on Amazon! It's a collection that deserves more recognition than it gets, certainly more than some other, more widely available versions receive.
I bought this collection shortly after buying the LSO/Abbado set, which had been for me a major disappointment. Abbado's line-shaping seemed entirely an intellectual exercise, not produced from any feeling or vision of the work. Moments of "attack" lacked expression, while the emotional moments did not "sing" as the melody seems to require. The whole seemed like a technically expert but ultimately mediocre attempt.
For comparison, I also had Karajan's versions of symphonies 3 and 4 (I have unfortunately not heard his symphony no. 5). Karajan's style is "blockbuster" Romantic, whereas Ashkenazy's Romanticism is lighter and more emotionally sensitive. They are both good in their own areas - a high-point of Ashkenazy's style is heard in the opening of the 3rd symphony, in which the strings seem literally to sigh. The orchestra has a rich sound and is recorded with some depth; the musicians themselves are more than competent for the material, and Ashkenazy's particular combination of concentrated energy and sincere feeling is always attractive and usually convincing.
Of the main four symphonies in Ashkenazy's cycle, the weakest point is the last movement of the 5th symphony. First, a loud trumpet a few minutes in seems to put the whole orchestra off-balance for a few bars. More tellingly, the great fugal section is unconvincing, seemingly outside of Ashkenazy's Romantic "comfort zone". (To be honest, I have not heard a convincing performance of this section yet - suggestions are welcome!)
It is also arguable that the opening of the 4th symphony is taken too fast, if it is supposed to evoke the Italian belcanto style. (Abbado, an Italian, makes the same error.)
The Lobgesang, the least respected of Mendelssohn's symphonies, gets particularly short shrift from the engineers of this performance. The sections of the choir are often either too close or too distant, and when the tenor sings, the volume levels seem to increase across the board, indicating that these parts were recorded separately. The performances themselves are fine, but if you particularly want this work, you'll have to shop for an individual recording. The work itself, however, is rarely considered a "deal-breaker" when it comes to a Mendelssohn cycle.
The above issues aside, these are fine performances, especially if you are looking for a pure Romantic approach to Mendelssohn, without Karajanian extremes of bombast."
A set to acquire!
Hiram Gomez Pardo | Valencia, Venezuela | 01/25/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
Ashkenazy is really the best soloist-conductor produced by Russia. And I must confess I rather prefer him in his last role. In this case, Ashkenazy has really filled a hole, because with some exceptions, Sawalich, Masur there have not been a distinguished set available for all who love to listen from time to time the pureness and brightness of Felix Mendelssohn.
If you want to have available a sturdy set of these Symphonies, you have come to a secure port, but always keeping in mind the Third and Fifth Symphonies in hands of Charles Munch are out of this world and simply don't admit comparison and the Fourth under Toscanini's magisterial baton.