Felix Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 2, Op. 52 ("Lobgesang," or Hymn of Praise), appeared in 1840 and was actually the last of his five symphonies. The occasion for its composition, curiously enough, was the 400th anniversary of the invention of the printing press, but the texts used in its choral sections are drawn mostly from the Book of Psalms. Its three instrumental movements, multi-sectional choral finale with fugue, and numerous smaller details attest to the fact that Mendelssohn was grappling with the example of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, which almost nobody else was doing in 1840. The work is sui generis within Mendelssohn's oeuvre, and it has suffered historically both because it's not one of his sure-fire crowd-pleasers and because it was a religious work in a secular time. It seems to be making a comeback, however, perhaps because it's a puzzling, somewhat misshapen work that gives conductors something to dig into. This audiophile-quality version by the Netherlands Symphony Orchestra under Jan Willem de Vriend is a historical performance of a sort, with some period equipment and bowing instructions that came straight down from Mendelssohn's time. The most obvious results of this line of thought are the moderate sizes of the orchestra and choir -- many traditional performances have tended toward the gigantic -- and above all the brisk clip. The performance clocks in at about 62 minutes and 36 seconds, comparable to a similar but crisper version by German historical-instrument specialist Thomas Fey but a full 12 minutes shorter than a classic version by Claudio Abbado with the London Symphony Orchestra on Deutsche Grammophon in the late 1980. Whether it works is a matter of taste, perhaps. De Vriend executes the interpretation consistently and keeps good control over a trio of Dutch vocal soloists who could have disrupted the flow if turned loose. But it may be that Mendelssohn intended a certain amount of excess, and there is absolutely none to be heard in this rather dry reading; the final chorus, which can be really stirring under coordinated attack by a big choir, here has the flavor of Mendelssohn's more academic exercises.
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AllMusic Review by James Manheim
|Symphony No. 2, Op. 52 "Lobgesang"|