The symphonies are well-performed. 'Reformation' is an inspired live recording. The 12 string symphonies, written in Mendelssohn's youth, are also included. The concertos are exceptional - the violin concerto is as good as you'll find anywhere. The oratorios Elijah and Paulus are included, as well as the complete chamber works and a diverse assortment of choral works. The last few discs include the Lied ohne worte, the epic organ sonatas, and excellent renditions of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Fingal's Cave. While there are a few sketchy performances in the choral and chamber works, the performances and recordings are generally very solid, and the body of work couldn't be better.
In 1835 Felix Mendelssohn became music director of the Gewandhaus Orchestra in his native city of Leipzig. 135 years later, Kurt Masur became the orchestra’s Kapellmeister, remaining in the post for 26 years, so there is an indisputable seal of authenticity on these interpretations of the complete Mendelssohn Symphonies. Joining them in this collection, and making it unparalleled in its scope, are the complete early String Symphonies; they are performed on period instruments – and without a conductor – by Concerto Koln.
The first two of the three string quartets of Mendelssohn's Op. 44 were recorded by the Cherubini Quartett in 1990. With its transparent textures, elegant phrasing, and refined execution, the ensemble is temperamentally suited to this music, which seems to require those qualities above others. While Mendelssohn acquired many advanced compositional techniques from studying Beethoven's quartets, he never presumed to plumb the master's spiritual depths, and preferred instead to emulate the Classical gentility and poise of Haydn and Mozart. The String Quartet No. 3 in D major, Op. 44/1, is predominantly exuberant and optimistic, and the Cherubini Quartett delivers it in a light, effervescent style, and only occasionally touches on the deeper passions that Mendelssohn prized in this work. More serious and fervid in expression, the String Quartet No. 4 in E minor, Op. 44/2, evokes the tense emotions of eighteenth century Sturm und Drang. The Cherubini Quartett renders the work with a darker coloration and richer tone, but these shadings neither interfere with the clarity of the parts nor weigh down Mendelssohn's fleet lines.