Mendelssohn: Symphonies Nos. 1 & 3 (SACD review)

Andrew Manze, NDR Radiophilharmonie. Pentatone PTC 5186 595.

Mendelssohn's Third "Scottish" and Fourth "Italian" Symphonies get most of the love, with No. 4 probably just edging out No. 3 in the number of recordings made over the years. More recently, No. 5 "Reformation" has gotten some attention, but Nos. 1 and 2 "Hymn of Praise" get hardly a nod from the record companies, with No. 1 getting the least notice of all. So, while it's always nice to hear another recording of the "Scottish" Symphony, it's even nicer that conductor Andrew Manze chose to couple it with the little First Symphony.

So, the program begins with the Symphony No. 1 in C minor, Op. 11, by German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847). Now, what's the story with this largely forgotten little piece? Well, for starters, Mendelssohn wrote it in 1824 when he was only fifteen years old. He premiered it at a private concert the same year to honor his sister Fanny's nineteenth birthday, but he didn't publish the work until 1831. Although it is brief at just over half an hour, it contains the usual zest we often associate with the composer, with an added dose of Mozart along with it.

Under Maestro Manze, the opening Allegro Molto is just that, very quick, and filled with a heady degree of energy. If anything, Manze sounds a tad too serious, yet it does set the tone for a vigorous performance. The slow movement is sweet respite, and Manze takes it at an appropriately leisurely pace, although it still seems rather staid to me. The third movement Minuetto proceeds like the rest of the performance at a steady if too solemn gait. Manze takes the finale as speedily as he does the whole work, but the approach works best here and ends the music on a driving note.

Then it's on to more-familiar territory with the Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56. Mendelssohn completed it in 1842, the last of five symphonies he wrote, despite the numbering. He called it his "Scottish" symphony because he started writing it over a dozen years earlier after a visit to Scotland. It doesn't actually sound all that Scottish, though; it's more like a brief, musical impression the composer got of the country, an impression he expanded over the years.

Here, Manze is not as genial as a few other conductors have been with this music, and I wouldn't say he handles it better than some of my favorite conductors in this piece. In particular, I've always enjoyed Peter Maag and the LSO (Decca), Bernard Haitink and the London Philharmonic (Philips), Claudio Abbado and the London Symphony (on either his earlier Decca or later DG recording), Joseph Swensen and the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Linn), Herbert Blomstedt and San Francisco Symphony (Decca), and Leonard Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic (Sony), among others.

Andrew Manze
Manze provides a nice lilt to the opening Andante, even if it appears again a bit too solemn to my ears, opening it up into a full head of steam as it progresses. The second movement zips along with a cheerful good grace. The lovely Adagio flows lyrically along, making a smooth transition into its dirgelike second subject and back again. Although it's a mite brisker than usual, it is in keeping with the rest of Manze's interpretation, which tends to the spry side. Manze ends the symphony with another fairly vigorous reading that we ought to be used to by this point. In all, the conductor injects the music with a hearty spirit while maybe losing a little something of the work's warmth and charm along the way.

Producer Matthias Ilkenhans, supervisor and digital editor Rita Hermeyer, and engineer Martin Lohmann recorded the album at Grosser Sendesaal des NDR Landesfunkaus Hannover, Germany in January 2016. They made the hybrid recording for SACD multichannel and two-channel stereo playback via an SACD player as well as two-channel stereo via a regular CD player. I listened in two-channel SACD.

There is a considerable amount of ambiant reflections around the sound of the orchestra, almost too much. It may sound realistic in multichannel, but in two-channel stereo it somewhat obscures the audio. Still, it's not distracting, and the overall sonic image is impressively dynamic. Upper mids tend to be a trifle hard and edgy at times, with a slightly elevated upper bass. It's also a bit closer than I prefer. Otherwise, there's fair amount of naturalness in the recording and a decent amount of orchestral depth.

Pentatone do up the disc with a standard SACD case, further enclosed in a light-cardboard slipcover. I'm still not sure what purpose a slipcover actually serves, but it does provide a handsome packaging feature.


To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click on the forward arrow:


  1. Hi, the Haitink Mendelssohn 3 is with London Philharmonic, not Concertgebouw. Regards, Thomas

  2. Thanks, Thomas. Force of habit with writing about Haitink, I guess. :)


Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on the Big Jon and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simpleminded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Arcam CDS50 CSD/SACD CD player, Goldpoint SA4 Passive Preamp, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE loudspeakers. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my cell phone. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer

Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.

The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job. --John J. Puccio

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa