MENDELSSOHN:  Symphony No. 3 in A minor, Op. 56 "Scottish."  Overture and Incidental Music for A Midsummer Night's Dream, Op 21 and 61.
Jennifer Vyvyan, sop; Marion Lowe, sop; Female Chorus of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden; London Symphony Orch/Peter Maag, cond.

DECCA 466 990 (M) (ADD)  TT:  79:25 

Refurbished by a "96kHz 24-bit Super DIGITAL Transfer," these classic performances take on new life -- in terms of longevity, that is to say. They were never dead, only filed in some basement on a shelf, fortunately in an air-tight container. The cover says "Legends 1957," but that's the date of the Midsummer Night's Dream selections. The "Scottish" Symphony was made three years later, albeit with the same orchestra in the same venue -- Kingsway Hall, London -- with the same chief engineer, Kenneth Wilkinson.

By 1960, however, Ray Minshull had replaced James Walker as producer, and the sound of the "Scottish" is a little strident at the start of Movement I; also, the perspective is disorienting until the Allegro un poco agitato exposition begins -- almost as if the channels had been reversed. This isn't to pick nits but to assure potential buyers that patience is rewarded after a couple of uneasy minutes, and to second Decca/London's choice of Maag's performance as "Legendary." There were acceptable "Scottish" recordings before this one, and plenty since -- too few of them outstanding --  but none with Maag's intuitively "right" tempos throughout, niceties of balance and registration, plus a "quick and warlike" finale that really is a climactic. Furthermore, he gets the coda, ambiguously marked Allegro maestoso assai by the composer, exactly right. Even more impressively, the preceding slow movement doesn't forfeit attention for a moment, despite its length and a certain sameness of mood. Although not one of my Favorites in the Biedermeier Classical Sweepstakes, I listened twice to it, even more appreciatively the second time.

Of the 12 cues comprising Op. 61 that Mendelssohn added in 1843 to his Midsummer Night's Dream Overture (Op. 21), composed when he was just 17, Maag omitted all the even-numbered ones except for the Finale, which includes a condensation of the Overture. But the "loss" is immaterial; some of the missing cues are a matter of only a few bars, and none lasts more than two minutes, if memory serves. All the treasures are here, including "Ye spotted snakes" and the finale for two sopranos and chorus, in a performance that remains marvelous today. The LSO was at its postwar peak in those years, and the attention paid by the players to one another is wonderful (in the accurate meaning of that abused word; only "splendid" has been misused more, and trivialized in consequence).

Again, not a single tempo is other than "right," and things like the Scherzo are rediscovered treasures. If you cherish Mendelssohn, you'll want these performances to play often. The sound, to seal a bargain, is only a fraction less enveloping that RCA's Living Stereo remasterings, and the difference resides in the originals -- Decca/London's being more transparent, albeit a shade "spacier." Need I have to add RECOMMENDED?

R.D. (Oct. 2000)