Classical: CD Review: Mendelssohn incites aural storm

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The Independent Culture
MENDELSSOHN: SYMPHONY NO 3; SCHOENBERG:

VARIATIONS;

DEBUSSY: LA MER

BERLIN PHILHARMONIC/ MITROPOULOS

RECORDED 1960

ORFEO/CHANDOS

C 488981 B

MOOD MUSIC in the truest sense of the term, means changeable, dramatic, impulsive and emotive. The Berlin Philharmonic plays at the limit of its capabilities, conducted by a musical explorer who also was a composer and mountaineer. Two months after this fabulous Salzburg concert took place in the Sixties, Dimitri Mitropoulos collapsed and died. He was leading Mahler's "Third" at the time, but although Mahler is popularly viewed as the special territory of Mitropoulos (at least in the concert hall), his Mendelssohn was no less remarkable.

The symphony's opening is swift, ardent and just a mite impatient, while the Allegro that follows is something more than "a little agitated" - Mendelssohn's own marking. Sample how the Berlin flutes and strings sing out (8'11"), and how winds of change incite a raging aural storm (9'45"). The Scherzo is dangerously fast: "Vivace no troppo" becomes "Vivace or bust', the Adagio is unusually forthright and the finale, a veritable stampede. No other recorded version is as exciting, and even Mitropoulos's own long-deleted New York Philharmonic LP is but a pale reflection of this superb Berlin concert performance. One senses a free spirit manipulating a magnificent instrument, not so much for beauty of tone, as for the sake of his special vision.

Thirty-two years earlier, in 1928, the same orchestra prompted both anger and consternation when Wilhelm Furtwangler premiered Schoenberg's then- baffling Variations for Orchestra. Mitropoulos makes the same territory sound as natural as a Brahms symphony, though when it comes to Debussy's La Mer, strong currents and bullying crosswinds prevail and the music assumes - or seems to assume - a mind of its own. Here Mitropoulos appears more victim than victor, a play thing of the waves, destined for shipwreck - though, again, careful listening reveals an unfamiliar incident. There is no better Mitropoulos memorial and the single-channel recording reproduces with great clarity. Unmissable.

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