Monday, November 10, 2008

Mendelssohn: Symphony #2

Today's post will cover Felix Mendelssohn's Second Symphony, from disc 2 of our 3-CD set of his five symphonies.

Admittedly, the Second is a bit of a marathon. It starts off innocently enough like any other symphony, with three instrumental movements. But instead of finishing things up with a predictable fourth movement, Mendelssohn takes us into a nine-movement choral work. Collectively, the entire work is as long as two "normal" Mendelssohn symphonies.

Mendelssohn dedicated his Second Symphony to the 400th anniversary of the invention of printing, which he believed to be one of the most important events in history.
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Herbert Von Karajan and the Berliner Philharmoniker
Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)
Five Symphonies

Deutsche Grammophon, 1973
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Listener Notes for Mendelssohn's Second Symphony:
1) I'll say this for Mendelssohn: in this symphony he finally puts the brass section to work.

2) I don't see what's so aesthetically disappointing to music critics about this symphony. It has a wonderful, simply stated 10 note introductory theme, a pleasant fast waltz second movement, and a very moving third movement. Granted, I may not be contemplating life's greatest questions or overcome by emotion as I listen to this work, but other than that, this is really quite a nice work of music.

3) The third movement, in fact, is as beautiful as any slow movement I've heard recently for this blog. Perhaps it doesn't quite measure up to the second movement of Liszt's Faust Symphony, but it certainly holds its own against any of Beethoven's early symphonies or any of the works by Haydn I've listened to lately.

4) Woodwind intonation alert: It's highly disappointing to hear quite a few off-key woodwind notes in the third movement. The clarinets are the primary guilty party here. Imagine if this third movement were played perfectly? The hair on the back of my neck would be standing up.

5) At the 6:25 mark in the third movement, hear the oboe (barely) pick off a really difficult high note in a solo. Then hear him hit it with a lot more confidence on the second try at 6:45.

6) Listen to these Germans sing! Feisty, aren't they?

7) Classical music newcomers will likely find the unintelligible German singing a bit disconcerting. My advice is don't worry so much about what they're saying; just let the music wash over you. In a nutshell, the singers are praising the lord, worrying if the night will pass, and once the night does pass, thanking God and praising him some more. If you don't understand the words, you aren't missing all that much.



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