Mendelssohn’s ‘Scottish’ Symphony Given the Naked Classics Treatment

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Mendelssohn: Naked Classics’s ‘Scottish’ Symphony, Paul Rissmann (presenter), Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Adrian Prabava (conductor), Usher Hall, Edinburgh, 27.4.2012 (SRT)

Considering that it was written in Italy by a German Jew, just how Scottish is Mendelssohn’s Third symphony? It was one of the questions posed by Paul Rissmann in tonight’s Naked Classics session. (“Slightly” seems to be the answer from two members of the orchestra, if you’re interested.) Rissmann’s personable style worked well in analysing the composer’s background and the Scottish inspiration for the music. We saw some of Mendelssohn’s own sketches of the Scottish landscape, fitting enough for the storm of the first movement, and we learnt how unimpressed he was with Wales in comparison. Rissmann is a gifted music educationalist. He can dissect a score and render accessible musical terms, explaining the pentatonic scale and the semitone with the aid of some space-age graphics, but musical virgins would especially enjoy the way he got different sections of the orchestra to stand up as they played different elements of the music, or the way he personified two contrasting themes of the finale as representing Queen Mary and Queen Elizabeth. I certainly felt I knew the symphony better by the end of the night.

Indonesian-born conductor Adrian Prabava made a very promising UK debut, using the large orchestral forces to create a full-blooded, unashamedly Romantic sound which made quite a contrast to the last time I heard this symphony with Herreweghe and his Orchestre des Champs-Elysees in the same hall. The palette of orchestral colour was rich and well used, from the plangent winds of the introduction to the rich breadth of the string tone, and I especially liked the way Prabava drew out the chocolaty colours of the middle strings. The final bars were a romping conclusion but then, why not? Rissmann called that last theme a pub song, after all!

Naked Classics returns next season with Berlioz, Stravinsky and Wagner. See here for full details.

Simon Thompson