Antonello Manacorda performs Mendelssohn expressively, taking particular care with dynamics and achieving ideally quiet playing in the slow movements. The dark scoring of the introduction to the ‘Scottish’ Symphony, led by divisi violas, is transparently recorded as is the start of the Allegro agitato where a clarinet gently doubles the violins. Throughout, Manacorda achieves eloquence of phrasing without imposing unasked-for manipulations of tempo. Only once does his obedience to the score undermine his good intentions: bar 108 of the first movement is marked Assai animato, an instruction of performing style, not a tempo change. Unfortunately a metronome marking twenty-percent faster than hitherto is placed at this point and when observed it results in an inelegant jump forward in speed. It also means that the start of the exposition repeat has to be slower than the existing tempo but Manacorda disguises this successfully. The metronome indication is absent from the equivalent bar in the recapitulation and here, after an exciting development section full of ever-increasing tension, Manacorda retains an even flow.
The Scherzo is performed fast and with brilliance. A clarinet announces the theme with virtuosity, fine playing Markus Krusche. Vivace is the indication on the first published score of 1843 although Sony adds non troppo but there is nothing held back about this vivid reading. By contrast Manacorda makes the most of the romantic nature of the Adagio; beautiful phrasing but with no subjective impositions; the Potsdam Kammerakademie has notably sweet-sounding (antiphonal) violins which enhance the music’s elegance. They are also capable of fierceness as shown by the dashing opening of the Finale; Manacorda takes advantage of Mendelssohn’s instruction on the first edition: Allegro guerriero (fast and warlike). The much-criticised coda (Klemperer went so far as to re-write it, as can be heard in a Bavarian Radio concert, which EMI issued) is a success because Manacorda pulls back the preceding reflective melody so that, despite the slower tempo marking, the final section pushes forward and benefits from being played without undue emphasis.
No problems of edition arise in the ‘Reformation’ Symphony and the listing in the booklet (which is entirely in German) even includes a serpent which most performances omit. This D-major Symphony starts in D-minor. Manacorda makes the most of this extensive, darkly dramatic introduction before launching into the Allegro con fuoco which he makes both grand and exciting. The Scherzo is bright and light-hearted and followed by a deeply thoughtful slow movement, its brevity allowing the conductor to lead one of Mendelssohn’s more-romantic creations expansively. The Finale is mainly concerned with the working out of Martin Luther’s chorale ‘Ein feste Burg ist unser Gott’, the coda being a triumphant statement of it, brilliantly orchestrated, and played with splendour by this admirable orchestra.