Mendelssohn in Birmingham: The Italian Symphony

19 October 2013 at 3.00pm

Town Hall, Birmingham 0121 345 0603

City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra 

Edward Gardner  conductor

Baiba Skride  violin

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 (Italian) 26′

Listen on Spotify Watch on YouTube
Mendelssohn: Violin Concerto 27′

Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 5 (Reformation) 30′

Unfortunately, Veronika Eberle has had to withdraw from this concert due to ill health. We are very grateful to Baiba Skride who has agreed to take her place at short notice.

Prodigy,  dreamer and master of melody – it’s no wonder that Felix Mendelssohn was Victorian  Britain’s favourite composer. And when the Italian Symphony bursts into  sparkling life, you’ll understand the reason, as Edward Gardner launches our Mendelssohn  Symphony Cycle in exuberant style. Baiba Skride is the soloist in Mendelssohn’s  Violin Concerto, performed today on the very spot where Mendelssohn conducted  some of his greatest works: Town Hall, Birmingham.

If you like this concert, you might also like:

Nelsons conducts Brahms’s Fourth, Wednesday 6th November

Mozart and Elgar, Thursday 20th February

Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto, Thursday 6th March

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“Mendelssohn to Thrill Birmingham, like he used to” –

Click here for article by Christopher Morley (in conversation with Edward Gardner), Birmingham Post

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Review by Peter Marks, BachTrack:

Click here for full review

…     “The tarantella-inspired finale was taken attacca and was daringly swift. This movement is a reminder of Mendelssohn’s talent for motoric writing (marked by a repetitive beat that sounds mechanical), here proving no problem for the players in their dispatch of the dazzling, whirling triplets. I was struck, as on previous occasions, by the way in which Gardner generates excitement in symphonies: choosing an over-arching tempo that is just right for a movement with subtle, if any, deviations, ensuring that the architecture of the music is very much in evidence through careful balancing and then really injecting energy and drive into climactic moments.

Baiba Skride was the last minute replacement for indisposed violinist, Veronika Eberle. There was no sign of hasty preparation in this very fine performance. Skride’s sweet and cultured tone was ideally suited to the concerto’s blend of pathos and consolation. Her transitions into the sublime second subject and out of the cadenza were magical; the undulating spread chords of the latter blending perfectly into the orchestral reprise.

Once again, an ideally flowing tempo was found in the Andante second movement. Mendelssohn’s skilful orchestration here finds the soloist often minimally accompanied by lower string pizzicato chords, timpani strokes and solo woodwind lines interrupted by full orchestral surges, here given with no shortage of passion. After a sighing intermezzo, the playful finale was heralded by trumpet fanfares (players sporting suitably Germanic instruments). In contrast with the previous movements, this is music to make you smile. There were plenty of smiles from Skride, who wore her virtuosity lightly, and her accompanists. The lovely counter-melody as played by the cellos and horn in unison was just one example of Mendelssohn’s delights given a sublime performance.”     …

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Review by Richard Whitehouse, ClassicalSource:

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…     “Numbering of Mendelssohn’s symphonies by no means reflects their order of composition, making the ‘Italian’ (1832) the Third rather than the Fourth. Surprising that this piece went unpublished in his lifetime – perhaps reflecting doubts over what can seem more an illustrative symphonic suite. In Gardner’s hands, the opening Allegro was finely propelled yet with the right emphasis on its suave second theme and some incisive string playing in the contrapuntal build-up at the start of the development: a pity he omitted the exposition repeat – as, with its lengthy transition back to the main theme, this is one of the few symphonic repeats that ought to be mandatory. The Andante brought its twin aspects of marching Pilgrims and capering counterpoint into purposeful accord, then its successor had a poise and elegance as befits this most deft of intermezzos (with evocative horn playing in the trio). Gardner rightly underlined rhythmic contrast between the finale’s saltarello and tarantella themes, while the surge to the A minor close could hardly have been more unequivocal.

Unlike most of his symphonies, Mendelssohn’s E minor Violin Concerto (1844) has never fallen out of favour. A work that takes its composer’s formal and expressive concerns to a virtual peak of perfection can too easily be taken for granted, making this account from Baiba Skride (replacing an indisposed Veronika Eberle) the more compelling. Her rapport with Gardner was evident from the outset, though it was in her fluid rendering of the first movement’s developmental cadenza that this performance really hit its stride: one maintained during a plaintively expressive Andante, which unfolded with an almost barcarolle-like gait in its outer sections and with no lack of pathos in its central section, then throughout a finale whose spirited progress evinced no trace of the blandness that so often mars this understatedly innovative music. Only a touch of edginess in the more bracing passagework prevented this reading from being among the finest, while Gardner’s adept accompaniment enabled one to savour the incidental detail and counter-melodies as brought out in the orchestral writing.”     …

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Review by Andrew Clements, Guardian:

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…     “The opening programme paired the Fourth and Fifth symphonies. Gardner’s civilised account of the Fourth, the Italian, was a fine example of modern-orchestra Mendelssohn playing: deft and light-textured, with crisp articulation from the strings and woodwind that was well defined but never over-highlighted. But the Fifth, the Reformation, seemed much more interesting. It’s an earlier work, despite the numbering, composed in 1830 to mark the tercentenary of the founding of the Lutheran church, with beefed up scoring, a first movement punctuated by appearances of the Dresden Amen as otherworldly as any in Wagner’s Parsifal, and a finale based on a Bach chorale, the strangness of which Gardner made no attempt to disguise.”     …

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Review by Roderic Dunnett, SeenandHeard. MusicWeb:

Click here for full review

…     “Each of Gardner’s pacings served this cause well. The Italian’s opening had not just vernal bounce but rare restraint, authority. The Town Hall’s acoustic seems a little clipped; perhaps that too doesn’t help the upper strings. The Andante con moto with its lovely legato over light-stepped double basses (like bowed pizzicato) enchanted; it is a march that has Harold in Italy written all over it,  except that the Berlioz’s actually followed some two years later (in 1834).

The Reformation’s weighty opening movement reminds us of Mendelssohn’s mentors – just as Beethoven in the Italian, here Weber (Euryanthe, especially Lysiart’s double aria) and a symbiosis with his friend Schumann. Gardner has a wonderful way of effecting quite tricky link passages with minimal fuss. At four points in both Fourth and Fifth symphonies, they just happened. He anticipates – rehearsal has proved its worth – and they just do it. All bodes well for the recording.

The brass delivered with restraint, but not without the Reformation suggesting Lohengrin on the way (not just in their affecting Dresden Amen). The extended flute solo, some wonderfully articulated clarinet work, and the unexpected weight of Margaret Cookhorn’s admirable contra bassoon produced an exciting kaleidoscope of colour.

Add in the beauty and elegance of Skride and Gardner exploring the Violin Concerto, in which the slow passages of the first movement outshone even the eloquence of the Andante – sensationally linked by Greta Tuls’ serene, rather than forlorn, bassoon, and you can sense an evening of majesty, suspense and yes, even holiness. I felt lucky to be there.”

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Review by Christopher Morley, Birmingham Post:

Click here for full review

“Last-minute replacements always add drama to events, and Saturday afternoon was no exception, when violinist Baiba Skride was jetted in from Latvia at the eleventh hour to join the CBSO in Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto.

Skride is a huge favourite with both the orchestra and its audience, and the ovation she received at the end of a lovely, singing and elfin performance was huge and well-deserved.

Every phrase Skride delivered was pulsating, repetitions subtly differentiated, high notes smiling into the stratosphere, and, despite minimal rehearsal, conductor Edward Gardner and the CBSO breathed as one with her.

Mendelssohn himself, an almost-palpable presence in this Town Hall over whose earliest years he was so much an influence, would have loved this, the centrepiece of a concert opening a series of all five of his symphonies under Gardner’s baton, four of them in this sacred venue.”     …

*****

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