Sunday, September 07, 2008

Stern, dark and very lonely


Evening, August 3, Highland inn at the Bridge of Tummel. A wild affair. The storm is howling, blustering, whistling around outside, causing the doors to slam shut down below and blowing the shutters open, but one can't tell whether the sounds of water are from the rain or from the blowing spray, since both are raging ... The countryside is broad and wide, covering with dense vegetation, from all sides cascades of water are rushing under the bridges, there is little corn but much heather with brown and red flowers, ravines, passes, crossroads; everywhere beautiful green, deep blue water - but everything is stern, dark, and very lonely. How could I describe it? - Felix Mendelssohn writes to his father, Abraham Mendelssohn Bartholdy, from Blair Atholl on August 3, 1829.

My photo of Loch Earn in Scotland was taken almost one hundred and eighty years after Mendelssohn's visit, and shows the timeless scenery and weather that inspired him to write his Scottish Symphony. It was not completed until 1842, by which time the composer had also written his Italian Symphony. There cannot be many CD collections that do not contain these two very familiar works, but if such a gap exists look no further than Herbert von Karajan's classic recording for Deutsche Grammophon which also includes Mendelssohn's other homage to Scotland, the overture "The Hebrides" ("Fingal's Cave").

Less likely to be found in the average CD collection are Mendelssohn's choral works. In 1828 Mendelssohn triggered the nineteenth century Bach revival with his pioneering performances of his own highly inauthentic version of the St Matthew Passion with the Berliner Singakademie. He went on to compose eight chorale cantatas inspired by Bach, and these works are included in an essential 10 CD set of Mendelssohn's complete choral music newly recorded (2002) for Brilliant Classics by the Chamber Choir of Europe directed by Nicol Matt.

Like many of the good things currently happening in the classical recording industry, like most of my Overgrown Paths, and like tuxedos, the music in this box of delights, which ranges from Mendelssohn's settings of Lutheran Chorales to the Catholic Ave Maria and Lauda Sion, is delicously unfashionable. But forget the fashion police and just savour these exemplary performances, the demonstration quality sound engineered by Reinhard Geller, the beautiful packaging including an enlightening booklet essay by Christian Wildhagen, and the typically Brilliant Classics budget price. I paid just €24.99 for the 10 CDs in Galeria Kaufhof in Leipzig, but there is even a single CD 'greatest hits' collection if your credit is being crunched too hard to shell-out for the 10 CD package. Who said the classical recording industry is dead?

Experience your own Scottish Symphony by staying, like us, at Earnknowe Cottages at Lochearnhead. My photo was taken from our cottage there, and is (c) On An Overgrown Path 2008. Mendelssohn quotation is from Felix Mendlessohn, A Life in Letters edited by Rudolf Elvers (ISBN 0304316954 OP). Report broken links, missing images and errors to - overgrownpath at hotmail dot co dot uk

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