Misha Donat
BBC Music Magazine
October 2016

Mendelssohn was just 15 when he composed his First Symphony, in 1824. It's an astonishingly assured piece, more influenced by Weber than by Beethoven, although the mysterious transition from the minuet's trio to the da capo, with its prominent timpani part, recalls Beethoven's Fifth. Mendelssohn's real breakthrough came the next year with his String Octet, and for a London performance of the Symphony some five years later, he replaced the minuet with an orchestration of the Octet's gossamer scherzo. John Elio Gardiner offers the minuet and scherzo side by side; listeners can programme whichever they prefer, though the scherzo might have been better as an encore.

Gardiner keeps the LSO on its toes both in the C minor work and the Italian Symphony, the winds producing crystal-clear articulation in the hair-raisingly fast account of the latter's concluding saltarello. He also effectively brings out the undercurrent of unease in the C minor work's slow movement, and the final reprise of its theme is quite beautifully handled.

Yet there's insufficient weight of string tone, especially from the violins, to convey the music's intensity and romantic ardour. Perhaps that's partly due to the recorded balance, but in other more traditional accounts—Wolfgang Sawallisch and the new Philharmonia (Philips), for instance—the music comes across more vividly.