It would seem that we've been under a delusion over Mendelssohn's 'Italian'
Symphony. The work was premièred at the Philharmonic Society in London
in May 1833 under the composer's direction. Only a moderate success, Mendelssohn's
revisions a year later affected all movements [listen
- track 2, 01:28-02:20] but the first, and that he decided to scrap
and compose anew. Because of his new, busy position in Düsseldorf,
the movement was not written and the Philharmonic Society as possessors
of the material gave further performances without notification to the composer.
This started the rising success of a 'withdrawn' symphony.
Not until the 1980s was this extraordinary mishap tracked down and attended
to by Dr John Michael Cooper. Accepting that the original first movement
must remain, he has dealt with all the subsequent revisions and produced
a new edition, on which this recording is based. It should be adopted worldwide
as the authentic text upon which all performances should be based.
Robert Schumann Philharmonie gives an exhilarating account of the revised
score [listen - track 4, 05:56-06:56] - although
one wonders what Mendelssohn might have provided as a replacement first
movement. In truth, the original is a delight, and must be so to thousands
Two other works accompany the symphony: concert arias for specific singers
and specific occasions: Infelice! / Ah, ritorna, età dell'oro
and On Lena's Gloomy Heath. The first was written for the celebrated
soprano Maria Malibran, with a solo violin part for her illicit lover Charles
de Bériot. She (and presumably the illict lover) was (were) unavailable
for the planned première on 19 May 1834, so oblivion descended and
the work remains unknown. Mendelssohn had the score back after Malibran's
death in 1836, and that was that until Dr Cooper resurrected it in 1997.
[listen - track 6, 01:32-02:18]
The other aria - On Lena's Gloomy Heath - has been rescued from
neglect by the American musicologist R. Larry Todd. It lacks the quality
of the previous aria but is undeniably effective and enjoyable in a good
performance such as this.
This recording does invaluable service to our assessment of Mendelssohn.
Copyright © 12 January 2000 by Basil
Ramsey, Eastwood, Essex, UK
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