Mendelssohn Symphony No 2, 'Lobgesang'
With this sixth volume, Thomas Fey and the Heidelberg SO complete their cycle of all Mendelssohn’s symphonies (including the early string works). Though published as No 2, the Lobgesang (“Hymn of Praise”) is really the last symphony but one, first performed in 1840 to salute the 400th anniversary of Gutenberg’s invention of the printing press; only the Scottish Symphony followed it. Really a cantata with a symphonic prelude, it is also the hardest of the set to bring off. Like other conductors, including Andrew Litton (BIS, 9/09), Fey drives the three symphonic movements rather hard, perhaps in the wish to generate the maximum excitement in preparation for the 40-minute choral movement. Though the Allegretto flows nicely, there is still an underlying tension, and Fey’s grip on the Adagio religioso avoids any danger of a lapse into sentimentality.
With the “finale” (though it lasts some 40 minutes compared to about 24 minutes for the opening sinfonia), the chorus comes to the fore – or should do, though especially in the louder sections the distance at which it is recorded inhibits verbal clarity; matters improve in the softer passages. Markus Schäfer sings “Er zählet uns’re Tränen” gracefully and rises to the occasion of the most dramatic episode in the work, the desperate watch through the night, without veering into the operatic; Eleonore Marguerre answers beautifully with the turn to the major key as dawn at last breaks. She and Ulrika Strömstedt make a pleasant episode of the rather tame duet “Ich harrete des Herrn”. There is, throughout, spirited playing from the Heidelbergers.