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Mendelssohn

Felix Mendelssohn – Symphony No 2, Op 52, ‘Lobgesang’: Sir John Eliot Gardiner / Lucy Crowe / Jurgita Adamonytė / Michael Spyres / Monteverdi Choir / London Symphony Orchestra.

Producer: Nicholas Parker
Engineering: Classic Sound Ltd
Recorded: Live in DSD, October 2016, Barbican Hall, London


In October 2016, to bring his acclaimed Mendelssohn symphonies cycle to a rousing conclusion, Sir John Eliot Gardiner and the London Symphony Orchestra – accompanied by Lucy Crowe, Jurgita Adamonytė, Michael Spyres and the Monteverdi Choir – gave two performances of the composer’s symphony-cantata, ‘Lobgesang’. Also known as ‘Hymn of Praise’, it sits slightly uneasily with Mendelssohn’s four other symphonies, with its extended last movement involving soloists and chorus. However, the idea was not without precedent – the work has its roots in both Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony (‘Choral’), and Berlioz’s Roméo et Juliette.

Composed for the celebrations in Leipzig of the 400th anniversary of Johannes Gutenberg’s invention of printing with movable type, Mendelssohn drew on Biblical texts and Lutheran chorales to create this jubilant work, which enjoyed considerable success following its premiere in 1840.

The work opens with a bold and majestic motto intoned by trombones, with answering phrases from the full orchestra. The symphony then follows a traditional trajectory for the first three movements, but when we reach the “fourth” movement, we move into the ‘cantata’ section. There is a return of the motto theme, driving an imposing crescendo, at the height of which the chorus enters with the text "Alles was Odem hat, lobe den Herrn!" (All things that have breath, praise the Lord!). The following movements successively darken the mood, stressing God’s support in times of hardship, and reaching the lowest ebb in a dramatic tenor aria full or Romantic nocturnal anxiety ('watchman will the night soon pass?').

Comfort comes right at the end of this section as the soprano declares ‘Die Nacht ist vergangen!’ (The night has departed!), and the chorus takes up the theme. From here on the confident nature of the opening is gradually restored, first with the Lutheran hymn ‘Nun danket alle Gott’, then with a duet radiant with thanks for deliverance, and finally a grand choral declamation and a fugue of Haydnesque jubilance.
While Sir John Eliot Gardiner is well versed in Mendelssohn’s output, this recording documents his first performance of the work. In an interview given around the concerts, he said, "It’s a piece I’ve been looking at for years, and I’ve never conducted it. I was a bit sceptical at first, thinking that it was the torso of a symphony with a cantata bolted on. But it isn't – it’s a delight! It has a lot of the inventiveness and sheer melodic flow of the young Mendelssohn and it’s perfectly calibrated and constructed".

Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s enthusiasm for the work is matched by the scintillating performances of Lucy Crowe, Jurgita Adamonytė, Michael Spyres, the Monteverdi Choir, and the London Symphony Orchestra.

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