Medici Masters – Dimitri Mitropoulos

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Mendelssohn
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish)
Symphony No.5 in D minor, Op.107 (Reformation)
Couperin/Milhaud
Sonata ‘La Sultane’ – Overture & Allegro [Orchestration and free transcription by Darius Milhaud]

Kölner Rundfunk-Sinfonie-Orchester [Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra]
Dimitri Mitropoulos

Recorded in the Funkhaus, Saal 1, WDR Cologne – on 24 October 1960 (Scottish Symphony), 19 July 1957 (Reformation Symphony) & 16 July 1954


Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: August 2007
CD No: MEDICI MASTERS
MM014-2
Duration: 73 minutes

Two of Mendelssohn’s symphonies are here given bold yet yielding performances under the Athens-born conductor Dimitri Mitropoulos (1896-1960) who became an American citizen in 1946 (he was music director of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra between 1937 and 1949 and then the New York Philharmonic until 1958).

The disciplined yet fiery playing Mitropoulos conjures from the Cologne Radio Symphony Orchestra is impressive, especially in lyrical intensity, but ensemble suffers in the second movement scherzo of the ‘Scottish’, a whirlwind and exuberant account to be sure, after which the Adagio is spaciously eloquent. This is one of the last performances that Mitropoulos conducted. The version of Mendelssohn 3 preserved here was given on 24 October 1960: on 2 November, while rehearsing the Orchestra of La Scala, Milan in Mahler’s Third Symphony, Mitropoulos succumbed to a heart attack. He was 64.

From three years earlier is Mendelssohn’s ‘Reformation’ Symphony, a much-underrated work, here given with benediction, grandeur of expression, rough-hewn timbres, thrilling impetus and, maybe surprisingly amidst such high-octane music-making, a graceful and affectionate (if pointed) play-through of the delicious Allegro vivace second movement, the ‘trio’ beguilingly shaped and decorated. This is a performance glowing with incident – if without quite challenging Lorin Maazel’s Berlin Philharmonic yardstick version on DG (recorded in 1961) – but it’s a rendition not to be without, as the richly moulded Andante and roof-raising finale demonstrate. A welcome lack of pomposity informs Mitropoulos’s conducting (which similarly benefits the final bars of the ‘Scottish’), the conductor’s emotional identification with the music directly communicative, the orchestra caught up in his vivid but never vulgar projection and his demands for precision.

The rarity on this release is Darius Milhaud’s ‘orchestration and free transcription’ of two movements from Couperin’s ‘La Sultane’ sonata – presumably originally composed for the harpsichord – the first section being solemnly beautifully and sonorously scored, the second, as made by Milhaud, offering a busy and edgy ‘hornpipe’.

All three (mono) recordings are clear and fulsome and have been very well re-mastered, both of the Mendelssohn symphonies being given performances that leave a bracing and convincing impression.

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