Chailly conducts Mendelssohn 
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The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra was founded by Mendelssohn and has a rich history of over 250 years. Here the Orchestra captures the full atmosphere of a unique musical occasion of a feast of Mendelssohn in Riccardo Chailly's inaugural concert as Kapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus. With vocal soloists including Anne Schwanewilms and Peter Seiffert, this release features a performance of Mendelssohn's Second Symphony 'Lobgesang', as well as the ever-popular overture 'A Midsummer Night's Dream'.
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The concert recorded here is Riccardo Chailly’s first concert in charge of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra, and the rest is a bit of a mixed bag. The Midsummer Night’s Dream overture is very well done, and it’s interesting to hear the original version. The setting of Psalm 114 is very inferior Mendelssohn, and although it is very well performed, I didn’t warm to it. I’m no great fan of Wolfgang Rihm, and the piece played here did nothing to change my opinion. Apparently this piece was included to demonstrate Chailly’s commitment to performing new music.
The sound and pictures are pretty good for a 2005 recording. Technical details: 16-bit LPCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1.
All in all, a very auspicious start to Chailly’s tenure at Leipzig
The gala audience in the gorgeously refurbished Gewandhaus was in for a treat. The concert opened with the original 1826 version of the precocious Mendelssohn's Overture to 'A Midsummer Night's Dream.' This original version sounds a bit more angular and a good deal more forward looking that the version we are familiar with. It seems to look forward to the sort of thing Berlioz was to do a few years hence. And the orchestra plays it with suavity and zest. One becomes aware of how strong this orchestra is in all its departments. (The only time I saw the orchestra play live was when they were on tour in the US during the latter days of the repressive East German regime -- one could spot their Stasi minders in the hall and backstage -- and the orchestra sounded and looked hangdog. None of that here. This is a brilliant orchestra.)
Next is the Rihm première, a 20-minute piece called 'Verwandlung II' ('Transformation II'; 'Verwandlung I' was premièred in 2002). It is a concerto for orchestra in all but name. A fairly typical late Rihm work, it looks backwards towards the formal constructs of Mahler but with no nostalgic tics. It is truly music of the present with brilliant orchestration, masterful manipulation of themes (cells, really) and clear form. It got a convincing performance from the orchestra and a loud ovation from the audience.
Mendelssohn's 'Psalm 114' ('When Israel came out of Egypt') is a compact, 15-minute powerfully moving expression of the faith of the exiled Jews. No soloists are used. Rather, Mendelssohn writes for a eight-part chorus, which sings the complete text of the psalm. It has six through-composed sections mirroring the Psalm's text and although it may be an example of what George Bernard Shaw sneeringly called 'kid-glove gentility,' it is an effective work for what it is. The excellent Gewandhaus Choir combined with the chorus of the Leipzig Opera make a joyful noise.
Mendelssohn's Second Symphony, 'Lobgesang' ('Song of Praise'), is a curious work in that it has three orchestral movements followed by an extended cantata for its final movement. It has some correspondence to Beethoven's Ninth, of course, but does not have the formal integrity of that work. This performance is of the original version from 1840 first presented at a Festival in Leipzig honoring the 300th birthday of Johann Gutenberg. I'm frankly not familiar enough with the symphony to note any differences between the two versions. The orchestral writing is marvelous. I particularly liked the sound of the unison trombones intoning the main theme of the first movement and the utterly gorgeous Allegretto second movement with its alternating pizzicato and arco strings accompanying meltingly lovely wind solos. The third movement is an Adagio, designated 'religioso,' and features some of the best string playing I've heard in a long time. This is vintage Mendelssohn and frankly I would have been more than happy to have had an instrumental finale. But obviously Mendelssohn knew better than I. The finale uses Bible texts (I cannot identify them more precisely than that) sung by two soprano soloists, a tenor soloist and a full choir. There is more than a little bit of homage paid to Lutheran chorale in the finale ('Nun danket alle Gott' gave me goosebumps), but the high points for me are the soprano solos and the two-soprano duet. The radiant Anne Schwanewilms is the prime soloist, joined in the duet by Petra-Maria Schnitzer. The stalwart tenor soloist is Peter Seiffert. I am less impressed with the sung finale than with what went before, but I have to say that the present performance is beautifully done and satisfying for what it is.
Sound (PCM stereo, Dolby 5.1, DTS 5.1) is demonstration quality. Videography is excellent; the editor clearly was very familiar with the score and the intercutting is expert. The sung texts are available in subtitles in English, German, French and Spanish. There is an eight-minute interview with Chailly and various other Gewandhaus personnel speaking of his accession to the conductorship of the orchestra. TT=121 mins
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