Musa Italiana: Mendelssohn, Schubert, Mozart

Riccardo Chailly / La Scala Philharmonic Orchestra

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Musa Italiana: Mendelssohn, Schubert, Mozart Review

by James Manheim

One of the most fortunate developments in orchestral music in recent years has been the emergence of the Filarmonica Della Scala, the house orchestra of Italy's La Scala opera house, as an independent symphonic ensemble. The group has operatic moves in its DNA, and conductor Riccardo Chailly knows how to exploit this. This recording of works by Mendelssohn, Schubert, and the young Mozart has the players spaced out for pandemic-avoidance purposes, with the microphones close to or even inside the ensemble, creating an unusual sound that gives the effect in which the listener seems to be standing with the conductor. All these factors coalesce into a highly enjoyable performance. Chailly's intent is to examine, in a general way, the ongoing influence of Italian music on the Austro-German tradition, and the particular flair the orchestra brings works well here. In Mendelssohn's Symphony No. 4 in A minor, Op. 90 ("Italian"), his tempos are brisk, aligned with the fast metronome markings Beethoven indicated for his symphonies. Nobody has ever been sure whether to believe these, but Chailly holds his players together. Two Schubert overtures, "In the Italian Style," represent the composer's attempt to replicate Rossini's hugely successful overtures; they actually seem to expand Rossini's conceptions. These are unique Schubert works that are not often heard. Chailly ends with a trio of overtures by the teenage Mozart, and here, too, he gives proper weight to the young composer's excitement at encountering the essentially theatrical nature of Italian music. Listeners have many choices when it comes to Mendelssohn's "Italian" Symphony, but these performances are entirely distinctive.

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