Mendelssohn: Symphonies Nos. 3 "Scottish" & 5 "Reformation"

Colin Davis

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Mendelssohn: Symphonies Nos. 3 "Scottish" & 5 "Reformation" Review

by James Leonard

Very, very good but not quite great, Colin Davis and the Dresden Staatskapelle 's 1997 live recordings of Mendelssohn's "Scottish" and "Reformation" symphonies are a blast while they're on, but fade in the memory. Davis works the Dresden players up into a fury in the "Scottish," driving the tempos, deepening the colors, heightening the drama, and turning the finale's major-keyed coda into a grand orchestral celebration. Davis gets the Dresden players down on their knees in the "Reformation," polishing the melodies, sculpting the sonorities, balancing the colors, and turning the famous Dresden Amen of the outer movements into musical supplication. But, very, very good as their performances are, Davis and the Dresden do not quite touch greatness. The "Scottish" is more than a musical travelogue: it's an atmospheric tone poem of unbending power. The "Reformation" is more than a musical statue: it's a heartfelt hymn to Luther's faith of unwavering strength. And neither of these performances quite rises to their level. So while one cannot help but enjoy the performances while they're on, one cannot help but recall that more is possible after they're over. Hänssler's live sound is clean and lush, but a bit too close.

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