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Mendelssohn's 'Italian' in a new light


CLAVES  CD 50-9912

Record Box


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 This started the rising success of a 'withdrawn' symphony.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.

Mendelssohn Discoveries. Copyright (c) 1999 Claves RecordsThe 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 of listeners.

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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Record Box is Music & Vision's regular Wednesday series of shorter CD reviews