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Mendelssohn: Symphonies Paavo Jarvi, Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich

Mendelssohn: Symphonies Paavo Jarvi, Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich

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"I don't think Mendelssohn gets the attention he deserves," said Paavo Järvi at the start of the 2020-2021 season. Faced with this observation, he undertook to record a complete cycle of Mendelssohn's orchestral works with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra for his second season as Music Director. On the programme are the composer's five symphonies, including the second, known as 'Lobgesang', half-symphony, half-cantata, with the participation of the Zürcher Sing-Akademie, tenor Patrick Grahl and sopranos Chen Reiss and Marie Henriette Reinhold. Finally, A Midsummer Night's Dream, based on Shakespeare's play, the overture to which Mendelssohn composed when he was just 17, concludes this very fine cycle.


According to the pianist Andras Schiff, Felix Mendelssohn is a “very underrated” composer. Conductor Paavo Järvi feels the same way: “I don’t think Mendelssohn gets the attention he deserves” the maestro offered before undertaking a survey of the Romantic icon’s five symphonies and incidental music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The recording of that project with the Tonhalle-Orchester Zürich is out now and, while it doesn’t cast Mendelssohn as a radical (which he wasn’t – not exactly), it highlights the strengths of his music and finds ways to put distinctive interpretive stamps on several of these scores.

[The five symphonies offer] a remarkable degree of variety that doesn’t always come through in performance or on disc. Here, though, Järvi manages to get the music to speak persuasively largely by virtue of smart tempos, flexible phrasings, and the highly attentive, virtuosic playing of his Zürich ensemble.

The First Symphony, written when Mendelssohn was just fifteen, is taut and driving, its counterpoint clean and well-shaped, and the slow movement’s lyricism lean and fluent. In the Fifth, Järvi’s approach to the music pays greater dividends.

Again, rhythms are tight, balances clean, and articulations crisp. The finale’s chorale statement is strongly shaped, while that movement’s later contrapuntal textures sound fresh and the music’s chromatic inner lines speak well. Also, the main sections of the outer movements are clearly sculpted: while there’s plenty of drive and intensity in the Tonhalle-Orchester’s playing, the lyrical sections breathe naturally and certain of the music’s antiphonal elements come out pleasingly.

More of the same follows in the Fourth which, for all its first-movement exuberance, manages to sing with warmth and grace. The concluding tarantella snaps right along, its central fugue unfurling with inviting energy.

Conductor, orchestra, and vocal guests seem to have a lot of fun with the Second...tempos are lively, there’s plenty of rhythmic clarity, and a compelling sense of direction throughout...the Zürcher Sing-Akademie’s blend and diction are both excellent. Similarly impressive are the performance’s soloists – sopranos Chen Reiss and Marie Henriette Reinhold, and tenor Patrick Grahl – who imbue their various moments with color and urgency.

Likewise stimulating is Järvi’s take on the Third Symphony. Here, the orchestra revels in the music’s play of color, rhythm, and character. Woodwind figurations in the Scherzo are exquisitely on-point, the subtle play of light and shade in the Adagio is sublime, and the flexibility of phrasing in the outer movements ensures that the score’s larger scaffolding sounds rightly majestic.

Filling out the set is Mendelssohn’s incidental music to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a programming choice that neatly frames the symphonies: he wrote the Overture just after completing No. 1 and the rest of the selections around the time he was finishing up No. 3 (which, as we might recall, was really his last).

Järvi and the Tonhalle-Orchester, joined this time by the ladies of the Zürcher Sing-Akademie and sopranos Katharina Konradi and Sophia Burgos, deliver a reading that’s energetic and, oftentimes, quietly tempestuous. Highlights include a limber, articulate account of the Scherzo; an unsentimental, richly blended, and rhythmically lucid take on the Nocturne; and a bewitching, elfin rendition of the finale.

-- The Arts Fuse

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Product Description:

  • Release Date: March 29, 2024

  • UPC: 3701624510049

  • Catalog Number: ALPHA1004

  • Label: Alpha

  • Number of Discs: 4

  • Period: Romantic

  • Composer: Felix Mendelssohn

  • Conductor: Paavo Jarvi

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich

  • Performer: Paavo Jarvi, Tonhalle-Orchester Zurich