Completed when Mendelssohn was only fifteen, his First Symphony is an energetic work, exhibiting the young prodigy’s genius and youthful outlook. Both versions of the third movement (the orchestrated scherzo from his Octet from the London premiere, and the original version) are presented here for comparison. One of his best-loved works, the “Italian” Symphony stems from Mendelssohn’s tour of Europe (1829-31) and is inspired by Italy’s vivid sights, sounds, and atmosphere.

Producer & audio editor: Nicholas Parker
Balance engineer, audio editor, mixing & mastering: Neil Hutchinson for Classic Sound Ltd
Recording engineer: Jonathan Stokes for Classic Sound Ltd
Recorded: Live in DSD 128fs on 16 February 2016 (Symphony No 1) & 23 March 2014 (Symphony No 4) at the Barbican Hall, London

Introductory speech by Sir John Eliot Gardiner at the concert performance of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 1 (16 February 2016):

‘It’s not every evening that you get to hear a symphony by a fourteen-and-a-half year-old genius. And there’s an intriguing complication to this particular piece: it concerns the third movement – the Minuet. Mendelssohn came to London in 1829 when he was barely twenty. Due to perform this, his first symphony for full orchestra, he wrote to his parents, telling them, 

“Well, I looked over my symphony and – Lord! – the Minuet bored me to tears, and it was so monotonous and pleonastic. So, what I did was to take the Scherzo from my Octet for strings, and I added a few airy trumpets, and it sounded absolutely lovely.”

‘Well, in truth he did quite a lot more than just adding a few airy trumpets: he re-orchestrated it with brilliant writing for the winds, while retaining the mercurial lightness of the original version. It’s so good we thought you should hear this new version of the familiar Octet movement. 

‘But what about the original Minuet and the Trio? Is it really so bad and so boring as Mendelssohn would have us believe? If so, why, when he came to publish the symphony, did he put that version in the score and leave out the Scherzo? Well, as you might have guessed, you’re going to get two for the price of one. I think both versions are really remarkable – as, indeed, is the whole symphony – and perhaps you would let us know at the end which version you prefer.’

The genesis of Mendelssohn’s warmly brilliant ‘Italian’ Symphony could not be more straightforward. In the autumn of 1830, the 21-year-old composer undertook a tour of Italy, visiting Venice and Florence before wintering in Rome, where he began work on a symphony celebrating the sights and sounds of the south. ‘It will be the jolliest piece I’ve written so far’, he wrote back to his family, adding that it had driven the ‘misty mood’ of the ‘Scottish’ Symphony (the response to a previous holiday, on which he was then working) right out of his head. The work was completed on his return to Germany and premiered in London in 1833.

Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s cycle of Mendelssohn Symphonies and A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the LSO has been received with critical acclaim. One critic at the concert performance of the Fourth Symphony, wrote: ‘The performance of Mendelssohn’s “Italian” Symphony No 4 was like a joyous high-speed rail journey around the country, taking in sun-soaked landscapes, an upbeat pilgrims’ march, and a scalding saltarello that truly felt like a dance to the death’.


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