Mendelssohn in Birmingham, vol. 5 (Chandos)

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This really useful series has reached a clutch of shorter pieces, all of them offering fresh insights into the life and mind of the travelling composer-conductor. In the overture to St Paul, Mendelssohn plays parlour games with the founder of his faith. The trumpet overture, opus 101, is quite literally a blast and the overture to Athalie has real novelty value.

The truth is that, two centuries on, we still have no idea who Mendelssohn was. He is so adept at presenting ideas in a patina of respectability that we are left wondering if this man knew any passion in his life, if he ever permitted himself to go naked. Edward Gardner brings warmth to these intepretations and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra play them as local heritage, which some absolutely are.

I’m inclined to think that Mendelssohn, in common with today’s air-miles musicians, loses much of himself on the road, never settling long enough to form meaningful relationships outside of his immediate family. But his best works are the travel pieces – the Hebrides overture, and Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage – short, sharp, Sunday-magazine length pieces. The depth lies elsewhere and it’s not easy to find.

 

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Norman Lebrecht is a prolific writer on music and cultural affairs. His blog, Slipped Disc, is one of the most popular sites for cultural news. He presents The Lebrecht Interview on BBC Radio 3 and is a contributor to several publications, including the Wall Street Journal and The Standpoint. Visit every Friday for his weekly CD review // Norman Lebrecht est un rédacteur prolifique couvrant les événements musicaux et Slipped Disc, est un des plus populaires sites de nouvelles culturelles. Il anime The Lebrecht Interview sur la BBC Radio 3 et collabore à plusieurs publications, dont The Wall Street Journal et The Standpoint. Vous pouvez lire ses critiques de disques chaque vendredi.

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