MENDELSSOHN Symphony No 2 (Gardiner)
The last instalment in John Eliot Gardiner’s bracing Mendelssohn cycle with the London Symphony Orchestra marks up a significant success. Confession time. Usually, once the singing begins in the Lobgesang (‘Hymn of Praise’) Second Symphony, I begin to switch off. After three pleasant orchestral movements lasting around 30 minutes – the Allegretto is a charmer – Mendelssohn tacks on a cantata finale of some 45 minutes that unbalances the work and seriously tests my patience. Not so here. Aided by fine soloists and, above all, Gardiner’s excellent Monteverdi Choir, this performance has a vitality that compels attention.
Claudio Abbado’s 1986 recording with the LSO set a new benchmark for the Lobgesang. Yet we live in leaner, cleaner times: Yannick Nézet-Séguin’s recent Chamber Orchestra of Europe account on DG strips seven minutes off Abbado; Gardiner whittles away another three, clocking in at just 64 minutes. Listen to the opening trombone fanfares and the string responses. Abbado sounds portentous and worthy – maestoso, for sure, but without the con moto Mendelssohn indicates. Nézet-Séguin is swifter, more purposeful. Gardiner sets off at the same pace but there is a rhythmic crispness to the brass-playing that signals clear intent, while the strings are sinewy but never underpowered. The excellent LSO woodwinds really dance in the Allegretto un poco agitato second movement, Gardiner pulling back just enough to retain a wistful character.
But as soon as we get to the choral section, Gardiner’s performance catches alight like no other. The 44-strong Monteverdi Choir launch into ‘Die Nacht ist vergangen’ with real joy as day arrives donning ‘armour of light’, while their diction in the fervent Lutheran hymn ‘Nun danket alle Gott’ is pin-sharp. Of the soloists, Lucy Crowe sounds a little pinched at the top when compared with Karina Gauvin’s refulgent tone for Nézet-Séguin but she blends well with Jurgita Adamonyte˙ in ‘Ich harrete des Herrn’. Tenor of the moment Michael Spyres excels in ‘Er zählet unsere Tränen’ and the urgent Nightwatchman episode. The final choral fugue is genuinely uplifting, a splendid way to conclude Gardiner’s splendid cycle.