Mendelssohn's Third "Scottish" and Fourth "Italian" Symphonies get most of the love, with No. 4 probably just edging out No. 3 in the number of recordings made over the years. More recently, No. 5 "Reformation" has gotten some attention, but Nos. 1 and 2 "Hymn of Praise" get hardly a nod from the record companies, with No. 1 getting the least notice of all. So, while it's always nice to hear another recording of the "Scottish" Symphony, it's even nicer that conductor Andrew Manze chose to couple it with the little First Symphony.
So, the program begins with the Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 11, by German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). Now, what's the story with this largely forgotten little piece? Well, for starters, Mendelssohn wrote it in 1824 when he was only fifteen years old. He premiered it at a private concert the same year to honor his sister Fanny's nineteenth birthday, but he didn't publish the work until 1831. Although it is brief at just over half an hour, it contains the usual zest we often associate with the composer, with an added dose of Mozart along with it.
Under Maestro Manze, the opening Allegro Molto is just that, very quick, and filled with a heady degree of energy. If anything, Manze sounds a tad too serious, yet it does set the tone for a vigorous performance. The slow movement is sweet respite, and Manze takes it at an appropriately leisurely pace, although it still seems rather staid to me. The third movement Minuetto proceeds like the rest of the performance at a steady if too solemn gait. Manze takes the finale as speedily as he does the whole work, but the approach works best here and ends the music on a driving note.
Then it's on to more-familiar territory with the Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56. Mendelssohn completed it in 1842, the last of five symphonies he wrote, despite the numbering. He called it his "Scottish" symphony because he started writing it over a dozen years earlier after a visit to Scotland. It doesn't actually sound all that Scottish, though; it's more like a brief, musical impression the composer got of the country, an impression he expanded over the years.
Here, Manze is not as genial as a few other conductors have been with this music, and I wouldn't say he handles it better than some of my favorite conductors in this piece. In particular, I've always enjoyed Peter Maag and the LSO (Decca), Bernard Haitink and the London Philharmonic (Philips), Claudio Abbado and the London Symphony (on either his earlier Decca or later DG recording), Joseph Swensen and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Linn), Herbert Blomstedt and San Francisco Symphony (Decca), and Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic (Sony), among others.
Producer Matthias Ilkenhans, supervisor and digital editor Rita Hermeyer, and engineer Martin Lohmann recorded the album at Grosser Sendesaal des NDR Landesfunkaus Hannover, Germany in January 2016. They made the hybrid recording for SACD multichannel and two-channel stereo playback via an SACD player as well as two-channel stereo via a regular CD player. I listened in two-channel SACD.
There is a considerable amount of ambiant reflections around the sound of the orchestra, almost too much. It may sound realistic in multichannel, but in two-channel stereo it somewhat obscures the audio. Still, it's not distracting, and the overall sonic image is impressively dynamic. Upper mids tend to be a trifle hard and edgy at times, with a slightly elevated upper bass. It's also a bit closer than I prefer. Otherwise, there's fair amount of naturalness in the recording and a decent amount of orchestral depth.
Pentatone do up the disc with a standard SACD case, further enclosed in a light-cardboard slipcover. I'm still not sure what purpose a slipcover actually serves, but it does provide a handsome packaging feature.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow: