Peter Maag is accorded almost legendary status especially with his interpretations of Mozart symphonies that have won several accolades on the Arts label. This complete set of Mendelssohn's symphonies with the Orquestra Sinfonica de Madrid conjures up similar memories of his classic Decca recording of the Third together with 'a Midsummer's Night Dream' and 'The Hebrides' Overture that are considered by many to be the finest recordings ever. Although not in the same league as those exalted recordings, this set is certainly one of the finest cycles available.
The rarely heard 'Hymn of Praise' is wonderfully done with the interpretation drawing to over 75 minutes, certainly one of the longest ever for this massive choral work. Maag brings intensity and drive to the instrumental movements and there is also clear diction from his soloists and the Orfeon Donostiarra choir. Compared with Karajan (DG) or Dohnányi (Decca), this Maag reading is certainly preferable and I would rate it on a par with Ashkenazy's similarly mellifluous account also for Decca in Berlin.
Maag's 'Scottish' is imbued with similar qualities that permeated his Decca account such as long, dreamy flowing melodic lines and a measured Finale. The digital recording is slightly harsh on the bass side but otherwise it is hugely recommendable. I also enjoyed the 'Italian' which is full of similarly delightful features such as dotted rhythms and a classic approach to the atmospheric slow movement.
This leaves the First and Fifth symphonies with Maag finding much in Mendelssohn's earlier essay in the genre although I feel still slightly detached from this work. I enjoyed Maag's 'reformation' hugely with several lovely qualities although I'm still enamoured of Dohnányi's classic VPO version. The set comes with three single CDs in a cardboard box but that should not detract collectors from snapping up one of the finest Mendelssohn cycles on the market from this great conductor.
Copyright © 2005, Gerald Fenech