Overture – The Hebrides (Fingal’s Cave), Op.26
Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 (Scottish)
Symphony No.4 in A, Op.90 (Italian)
Boston Symphony Orchestra
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 24 January, 2009
Venue: Boston Symphony Hall, Boston, Massachusetts
Kurt Masur returned to Boston Symphony Hall to conduct a Mendelssohn program celebrating the 200th-anniversary of the composer’s birth. Masur is strongly connected to this composer in a number of ways. As Kapellmeister of the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Masur headed its venerable orchestra from 1970 to 1996, an orchestra which Mendelssohn himself conducted for twelve years. Now 81, Masur has been a long-time champion of Mendelssohn’s music, and is Chairman of the International Mendelssohn Foundation, an organization he founded in 1991. Chief among the foundation’s efforts is the restoration of the Mendelssohn House in Leipzig.
In honor of the composer’s bicentennial, Masur is conducting a variety of Mendelssohn programs with orchestras around the world. Prior to his visit to Boston, he was in Paris, where he led Orchestre National de France in two performances of “Elijah”. From Boston, he will return to the podium of the New York Philharmonic, where he was Music Director from 1991 to 2002, for a program including the Ruy Blas Overture, the Violin Concerto (with Anne-Sophie Mutter) and “Die erste Walpurgisnacht”.
This celebratory program at Boston Symphony Hall consisted of three popular pieces inspired by Mendelssohn’s travels, all the works of a very young man. The curtain raiser was a supple, abundantly atmospheric account of The Hebrides, an overture inspired by Mendelssohn’s trip to Scotland at the age of twenty. Masur drew crisp, highly spirited playing from the BSO in a performance that was full of the requisite mystery and drive.
Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ Symphony was not completed until 1842, and although catalogued as Symphony No.3, is actually Mendelssohn’s fifth and last. It also got its first inspiration from the young composer’s 1829 journey to Scotland. In this performance, Maestro Masur opted for generally relaxed speeds in the outer movements, relatively brisk ones in the middle movements – all to very good effect. The dance rhythms of the scherzo were wonderfully lively and light, the whole performance marked by appropriately lyrical warmth and superb orchestral playing.
The evening ended with a sparkling and persuasive account of the ‘Italian’ Symphony. An especially understanding interpreter of Mendelssohn, Masur observed the all-important first-movement exposition repeat, and his judicious choice of fast but never breathless speeds brought out all the urgency and warmth of the composer’s exuberant inspiration. The sparkling reading built to a wonderfully exciting and satisfactory climax and was the highlight of this affectionately interpreted and splendidly performed Mendelssohn program.