SCO Mendelssohn

0 of 5 stars

Overture – The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op.26
Violin Concerto in E minor, Op.64
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish)

Scottish Chamber Orchestra
Joseph Swensen (violin)

Recorded in July 2002 in the Usher Hall, Edinburgh

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: July 2004
Duration: 72 minutes

This is a very enjoyable Mendelssohn ‘concert’ and also an impressive document of the relationship between the Scottish Chamber Orchestra and Joseph Swensen, heard first here through an atmospheric and flowing Hebrides Overture. Although the trumpets are a mite dominant, the seductive clarinet solo towards the close will melt the hardest heart.

The concerto is sweet-toned, lyrical, and rather dreamy; attractive dancing buoyancy sustains the whole. Swensen’s solo work can be a little tonally fallible in the violin’s highest register but his unaffectedly suave playing gets to the heart of the work’s warmth, energy and poetry. Throughout, the SCO plays with individuality, and with intimate confidence; numerous details that tend to escape the ear in more inflated performances are here placed with meaning. Swensen makes the opening-movement cadenza seem especially integrated, and his heartfelt playing of the Andante is a highlight, so too the unforced sparkle of the finale, notable for some deft articulation from all concerned.

Swensen’s conception of the Scottish Symphony is classical – structured and moving along. The slow introduction lacks what some might consider an obligatory depiction of mist and murky waters. This lack of imagery is compensated for by fastidious attention to detail and rhythm, and the (unfortunately not repeated) exposition is introduced with magical hush. The all-important attaccas linking the movements are perfectly judged; the scherzo is vital without being rushed; the Adagio is song-like and heartfelt; and the finale is lively and, despite a swift speed, avoids relentlessness. The coda is a model of how to end this work in high spirits rather than bombast.

The SCO plays with a bewitching array of colour and character (some wonderful woodwind playing) and Swensen’s use of antiphonal violins is another plus-point. This is popular Mendelssohn played with freshness and insight, and this generous and committed music-making – a testimony to collective creativity – is superbly recorded.

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