This evening the Orchestre national de France, under the assured baton of Kurt Masur, will be performing Mendelssohn’s two most brilliant symphonies, composed upon his return from a trip around Europe. The first, in A Major, was inspired by the Italian leg of his journey: the warm textures of the opening movement evoke the picturesque beauty of the countryside, while the chants of pilgrims in Rome form the thematic material of the second movement. The second symphony, ‘the Scottish’, is marked by an altogether darker Nordic variety of romanticism. Minor chords and brooding woodwind are deployed to suggest the stormy skies and bleak windswept landscapes of the highlands. The two works are perfect counterparts, displaying between them the sheer virtuosic brilliance of the German composer at his peak.