Frantic Mendelssohn Overtures from Gardner

Review by: David Hurwitz


Artistic Quality: 7

Sound Quality: 8

“Mendelssohn in Birmingham” is not a cantata by P.D.Q. Bach along the lines of his celebrated “Iphigenia in Brooklyn,” but rather a series of Chandos recordings celebrating the composer’s relationship to the English city where he enjoyed some of his greatest triumphs. This is Volume 5, and it consists of overtures previously released, alongside a few others not yet recorded. Gardner’s Mendelssohn is often muscular, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. He whips up a fine storm in The Hebrides, and offers a triumphant homecoming in Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage. The vaguely period instrument-influenced timbres, with prominent timpani and enthusiastic brass, serve the more melodramatic moments of the Ruy Blas Overture well too.

Elsewhere, the results aren’t so happy. I question the balances in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with scurrying violins so soft that, especially in the central development, the spooky goings on seem to take place outside the basic texture rather than within it. The Trumpet Overture, one of Mendelssohn’s best and least appreciated orchestral works, simply sounds frantic. There’s so much to savor here: the buoyant counterpoint, the whirling strings–but not at this tempo. Melusine, too, could do with a touch more sex appeal and less neurosis. It’s good to have the serene prelude to Paulus and the overture from Athalie, with its exuberant harp writing (very unusual in Mendelssohn), both decently done, but ultimately this is a mixed bag, and an unnecessary purchase, especially if you have the other discs in this series already.

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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None

    Overtures: Paulus; The Beautiful Melusine; Trumpet; The Hebrides; Athalie; A Midsummer Night's Dream; Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage; Ruy Blas

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