Mendelssohn - Symphony No.4 in A major Op.90 "Italian"
Vivaldi - Olimpiade - Andante
I. Allegro vivace (2 sides)
II. Andante con moto (1½ sides)
III. Con moto moderato (1½ sides)
IV. Finale: Saltarello-Presto (2 sides)
Turin Symphony Orchestra, Mario Rossi
Mediafire link for Mendelssohn - Symphony No.4 Italian - Mario Rossi
(These are zip files – left click the link, download the files, then unzip when downloaded)
Decca AK 1974-7
Matrices AR 11730-1, 11731-1, 11732-1, 11733-1, 11734-1, 11735-1, 11736-1, 11737-2
This recording received a detailed review in The Gramophone, December 1948:
Turin Symphony Orchestra (Mario Rossi): Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90, "Italian" (Mendelssohn); Andante from "L'Olimpiade" (Vivaldi arr. Mortari). Decca AK1974-7 (12 in., 27s. 4d.).
I cannot imagine why Decca have decided to withdraw the Unger version in six months' time in favour of this new one. It is true that Unger took the first movement rather deliberately and was altogether too perfunctory about the Andante; but he was well recorded, and on points his version wins hands down over this new competitor. Perhaps the idea was that it would be interesting to have an Italian orchestra playing a work which owed all its inspiration to Italy – for this is not one of your made-up titles stuck on afterwards by a publisher. Mendelssohn had started off at the age of 25 for an extended tour of Austria, Italy and Switzerland, and his sketches and letters vividly record the impressions made on his naturally vivacious mind: in 1831 he wrote from Rome, "The Italian Symphony makes rapid progress: it will be the gayest piece I have yet composed, especially the last movement. I have not yet made up my mind about the Adagio (sic), and think I shall reserve it for Naples." He finished the work on his return home, and conducted the first performance himself in 1833 for a concert of the Philharmonic Society of London. The curious thing is that this symphony, for all its seeming spontaneity and the sunny freshness of its writing, caused Mendelssohn exceptional difficulty, and right up to the year of his death he was still considering making alterations to it.
W.R.A., writing of the recent Barbirolli recording of the Italian, said that it achieved “high clarity at the expense of warmth.” Here almost the reverse is true: there is plenty of spirit, even if the orchestra is not particularly well disciplined, but far greater definition, both of playing and recording, is necessary. Rossi starts off at an impetuous speed; the woodwind repeated chords are a mere indistinct background; the strings, when they enter with their exuberant tune, skitter over the quavers and clip the rhythm. It is all, clearly, just too fast for the players' comfort: phrases are snatched, and there is frequently little continuity of the melodic line. But there is interesting perspective and plenty of vitality. If the staccato string passage leading to the second subject is untidy, the second subject itself is treated with the most delicious lightness and grace. It is a pity that the exposition is not repeated: it is becoming a bad habit to alter Mendelssohn's carefully-calculated proportions by cutting the repeat.
After the first movement the rot begins to set in. The Andante is played sympathetically, but (especially at the end) oh! so slowly. This seems to have depressed the orchestra so much that it plays the third movement without much conviction, and the Trio is dreary in the extreme – it is taken very slowly, the horns ignore the phrasing (which is clearly marked in bar-lengths), and the violins' dancing figure is laborious and leaden-footed. By contrast, in the Saltarello, the Roman carnival seems to have gone to the players' heads, and the rhythm is none too stable (notice how the woodwind soloists jump their fourth beats at letter C, side 7). This movement certainly cannot compare with Unger's version.
The fill-up is interesting: a gracious elegiac Andante from one of the 38 operas of Vivaldi, the red-headed priest on whose music Bach drew so much. L'Olimpiade, one of Metastasio's most popular libretti, was set by about a dozen composers, and Vivaldi's opera was revived in 1939 at the Siena Festival.
The LP issue was reviewed briefly in The Gramophone, September 1950:
*MENDELSSOHN. Symphony No. 4 in A major, Op. 90, "The Italian." Turin Symphony Orchestra (Mario Rossi). Decca LX3004 ( 10 in., 29s. 6d.).
In December, 1948, my colleague L.S. devoted nearly a column to a review of the 78 version or this symphony. He wrote with no great enthusiasm, and I agree with all his strictures. Indeed, as a whole, it is a poor performance, and therefore I cannot understand why Decca has bothered to issue it on L.P. There is certainly no improvement in the quality of the recording. L.S. said that "far greater definition, both of playing and recording, is necessary." It still is. R.H.