- Symphony No. 2 in B flat major ("Lobgesang", "Hymn of Praise"), Op. 52
Felix Mendelssohn's "Symphony No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 52 (Lobgesang)," was commonly performed during his lifetime but fell into obscurity in the 20th century thanks to the icy twin critiques of the Nazis, who trashed the Mendelssohn memorial in front of the Leipzig Gewandhaus and banned the composer's works, and of modernist musical ideology, which saw in the work a sort of nationalistic religious kitsch. The symphony is showing signs of a comeback, with recordings by Riccardo Chailly and other name conductors on the market. It stands out from almost every other work by Mendelssohn: whereas he was almost always controlled and tasteful, this symphony is unwieldy, overlong, and all over the map. It is also admirable for its sheer ambition and for the fact that, 15 years after the completion of Beethoven's "Ninth," Mendelssohn was virtually the only composer who was trying to grapple with it. It is, in a way, a fantasy on Bach's chorales, and there are also echoes of Handel, Schubert, and Weberian opera. The "Ninth" is definitely the model for this symphony with three instrumental movements capped by a massive multi-sectional choral finale, and Enlightenment ideals are central to both works. Even if Mendelssohn's embellishment of the chorale "Nun danket alle Gott" (track 9) is unconvincingly sentimental, the emotional center of the work lies not there but in the preceding chorus, "Die Nacht ist vergangen" (The Night Is Gone), which lacks only the catchy melody to be the equal of Beethoven. It is a thrilling moment. If the work does not all quite hang together, it deserves points for its insanely ambitious attempt to marry the Lutheran heritage to Enlightenment ideas musically. The way to put the work across is to prevent it from collapsing under its own weight, and the relatively small forces employed in this live recording by the Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich, the curiously named Chorus sine nomine, and conductor Andrés Orozco-Estrada do the job. Orozco-Estrada sharply differentiates the sections from one another, and his tempos are moderate, with the work's various Bachian fugal and contrapuntal sections kept clear. The soloists are top-flight, with rich turns from Slovak soprano Simona Saturová in her duets with Christiane Oelze, and tenor Ian Bostridge's voice fits the material. The live engineering at Vienna's Musikverein is excellent. Highly recommended.