Marriner: Mendelssohn "Scottish" & "Italian" Syms - Decca / Argo ZRG 926
Jacket GOOD / LP NM / UK pressing
This excellent LP from Argo (ZRG 926, English Decca pressing, green/silver label, stereo) features Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy of St. Martin-in-the-Fields’ brilliant accounts of Mendelssohn’s Symphonies No. 3 in A minor Op. 56 “Scottish” and No. 4 in A Major Op. 90 “Italian”, both recorded in the warm acoustics of Walthamstow Assembly Hall, London, on 27, 29, and 30 November 1979 (producer: Christopher Hazell / engineer: Stanley Goodall).
Wrote the critic T.H. in his review for the June 1981 issue of The Gramophone: “It depends on how you like your 'Scotch'— neat or with something added. If neat, then Marriner will serve it like that. If with something added, then get Bernstein (on DG) to mix it, for he will add lots of his own personality. EG wrote of the slow introduction that Bernstein "moulded Mendelssohn's innocent phrasing to give it an almost Mahlerian tinge"; and later "the slight hesitations and exaggerations of dynamic shaping will not please everyone". You can include me among that 'everyone' for I find his attitude far too romantic in the later nineteenth-century sense than is suitable for Mendelssohn. True, one must except the Scherzo and the finale; the Scherzo in particular for it is taken at such a dashing speed and played with a virtuosity of which one had not thought the Israel Philharmonic capable. Not that I intend 'neat' in relation to Marrmer's performance to imply that it is just well played and according to rule (though it is indeed played well) for it is not at all lacking in personality. It is simply that the conductor's personality does not overlay Mendelssohn's own.
“But there is one big difference between Marriner's performance and all the rest, which is that he uses a comparatively small string body whereas the others sound as if each is using his orchestra's full symphonic strength. The much smaller number of strings makes for a less heavyweight sound and I must say I like it. It is anyway probably the sort of orchestra Mendelssohn had in mind, for those were the days before the demands of Wagner et a1 made a very large string section necessary. (Zukerman and the English Chamber Orchestra in the Royal Festival Hall were recently criticized for playing the Italian with so few strings; but what may not come off in a hall of that size is ideal for recording.) A small band particularly suits the Italian. Such things as accents become lighter, though I rather think that Marriner makes too little of them and of phrase shaping in general in the middle movements, both of which, though well played, are a little uneventful: but for the rest, the first movement is genial, the finale, with eager wind entries, is kept bowling along splendidly. Since the Scottish takes over a side Marriner is left with less than that for the Italian, so that makes some excuse, I suppose, for neglecting the exposition repeat in the first movement. No excuse for Tennstedt on HMV, for he has a whole side for it. Bernstein observes it, as does Previn on HMV.
“I make no apology for repeating my complaint about this; and after paying for a ticket for a concert recently at which the Italian was advertised, I wondered what would have happened if I had demanded my money back on the grounds that as there are about 20 bars of the piece that were not played, I hadn't heard the whole of the symphony-20 delicious bars, what's more. The Scottish demands it far less and you certainly don't lose any music of consequence by the omission of the repeat. For information, however, I must report that of the conductors listed above Muti (HMV) does observe it—in a performance with the New Phil harmonia of exceptional quality. However, as I have remarked, there is no real comparison between this new Marriner record and any of the others. There are, notably in the finale of the Scottish, passages of delicacy such as are impossible with a larger orchestra, while the 6/8 coda is splendidly jubilant. The recording is as clear and clean as the playing.”
Incidentally, the striking cover art reprints William McCulloch’s “Inverlochy Castle”, held at the National Gallery of Scotland. There are excellent liner notes on the reverse side of the jacket – provided in German, English, and French – by Joan Chissell.
The gradations of condition I use are as follows: MINT, Near-Mint, Excellent, Very Good, Good, Fair, Poor.
The condition of the jacket is GOOD. The Decca sticker affixed atop the original Argo label is a bit frayed. There is also slight bumping at corners, some edgewear along the spine, and mild discoloration to the rear panel. However, there are no seamsplits, bends, owners’ markings, or other defects and the album remains solid and presentation worthy – overall, this rates as good collector’s copy.
The condition of the LP itself is near-MINT and the playback is outstanding – overall, this rates as a superb collector’s copy.