Thomas Zehetmair / Musikkollegium Winterthur

Mendelssohn: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 5 "Reformation"

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This release is part of a unique cycle of the five mature Mendelssohn symphonies: one with the same orchestra, but led by three different conductors. Here, in the earliest pair of works (the numbering of the "Reformation" Symphony as No. 5 was the result of its being published only after the composer's death), the conductor is Thomas Zehetmair. But the qualities of the recording are similar to those of the third and fourth symphonies as directed by Heinz Holliger elsewhere in the series; the orchestra has a personality of its own that shows through. The Musikkollegium Winterthur, from Switzerland, though not specifically a historical-instrument group, possesses traits of many representatives of that movement, perhaps through sheer longstanding tradition: the orchestra was founded in 1629. Those traits include an overall cool approach, clear exposition of inner lines, and reduced string vibrato; the players in the group are young, and their approach might be compared to that of the similarly sized Chamber Orchestra of Europe. It all works well for these two works by the not-yet-adult Mendelssohn, the Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 11, originally planned by the composer as an addition to the set of 12 youthful string symphonies but suddenly going decisively beyond those in terms of instrumentation and expression, and the Symphony No. 5 in D major, Op. 107 ("Reformation"), Mendelssohn's first attempt to render his discovery of the music of Bach in a modern language. The orchestra's efforts are scaled to the music, which is modest in scope but no longer chamber music, and the performances are fresh, quick, and for the most part clean. MDG's audiophile recording at the Stadthaus Winterthur is impressively clear and unfussy.

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