Mendelssohn Symphony No. 3

Dudamel · Vienna Philharmonic · Mendelssohn

Although he had conducted the Vienna Philharmonic before, this record documents Gustavo Dudamel's official entry into that charmed circle of maestros selected by the musicians themselves for their exclusive series of subscription concerts. The fiery young Venezuelan's choice of Mendelssohn for this career milestone - an early German Romantic associated more with England than Austria - might have seemed surprising, but its wisdom is confirmed by this live recording. Vienna's Kurier called the occasion "absolutely flawless . . . Gustavo Dudamel approached the music with the right balance between precision and necessary freedom for the players."

Published and numbered third, the "Scottish" was actually the last of Mendelssohn's five mature symphonies, completed in 1842. Its inspiration, however, goes back to summer 1829 and the composer's first visit to Britain. After concerts at the London Philharmonic Society, a piano recital and an all-star benefit concert for Silesian flood victims, he headed off to Scotland for some rest and recreation. In Edinburgh he attended a gathering of Highland pipers and visited Holyrood, writing home on 30 July: "In darkening twilight today, we went to the Palace [of Holyrood] where Queen Mary lived and loved. There is a little room to be seen there with a spiral staircase at its door. That is where they went up and found Rizzio in the room, dragged him out, and three chambers away there is a dark corner where they murdered him. The chapel beside it has lost its roof and is overgrown with grass and ivy, and at that broken altar Mary was crowned Queen of Scotland. Everything there is ruined, decayed and open to the clear sky. I believe that I have found there today the beginning of my Scottish Symphony."

Over the next ten years Mendelssohn composed three other symphonies, the Hymn of Praise (No. 2), "Italian" (No. 4) and "Reformation" (No. 5). Not until 1841 did he return to the "Scottish", conducting the premiere in Leipzig on 3 March 1842 and the first London performance at the Philharmonic Society on 13 June. Among the new friends he made on that visit, his seventh to England, was Queen Victoria, who graciously accepted the symphony's dedication.

The "Scottish" reached Vienna in March 1848. Georg Hellmesberger conducted the Philharmonic (founded six years earlier) in the symphony's local premiere at the Redoutensaal in the Hofburg. It quickly became a staple of the Vienna Philharmonic repertoire, conducted by Otto Dessoff in the 1860s and 1870s, Hans Richter in the 1880s and 1890s, and Felix Weingartner in the first three decades of the 20th century - for the last time in 1936. Then came the dark years and Mendelssohn's eventual return to the Philharmonic repertoire after the war, but there were no further performances of the "Scottish" until 1976, when it was reintroduced by Riccardo Muti. Since then the work has been given regularly again by the Philharmonic, under Lorin Maazel, Hans Graf, Mariss Jansons and now Gustavo Dudamel.

This performance was recorded in the Musikverein in December 2011 and is issued here for the benefit of aspiring young musicians in Venezuela's remarkable El Sistema. Its LP-only release, the first of a Vienna Philharmonic recording in over two decades, is also significant. Gustavo Dudamel has never lost a special fondness for the vinyl records he associates with his earliest musical memories. Tellingly, his favourite 30th-birthday present in January 2011, received with an ear-to-ear grin after conducting in Cologne, was a stack of LPs from Deutsche Grammophon.

Richard Evidon

Track List

1. Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 - "Scottish," 1. Andante con moto - Allegro un poco agitato - Assai animato - Andante come prima
2. Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 - "Scottish," 2. Vivace non troppo
3. Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 - "Scottish," 3. Adagio
4. Symphony No.3 in A minor, Op.56 - "Scottish," 4. Allegro vivacissimo - Allegro maestoso assai