Hausmusik’s performance of the Mendelssohn Octet comes with the advantage of a sensibly steady tempo for the famous scherzo, allowing for maximum transparency and lightness; and a dazzling finale in which for once the cello’s first scurrying fugal entry sounds crystal clear. The First String Quintet, and the Op. 13 Quartet – Mendelssohn’s homage to the late quartets of the recently deceased Beethoven – are also miraculous products of the composer’s teenage years. The Quintet is quite beautifully done here, but the Quartet, like the late Quintet, Op. 87, is rather lacking in tension and urgency. Woldemar Bargiel was Schumann’s brother-in-law. For all its obvious weaknesses, his Octet contains some attractive ideas, and Divertimenti’s performance makes a strong case for it. Divertimenti is impressive in the Mendelssohn, too – though its finale is not quite as exhilarating as Hausmusik’s; and in the last resort neither group can quite match the élan of the ASMF Chamber Ensemble.
For those new to Mendelssohn's music, this might look like a recording of some major works of the composer; be aware that they're virtually unknown music of Mendelssohn's early teens, first published in complete form only in 1999. For those already a fan of Mendelssohn, however, they're very intriguing works that show the developing talents of the young composer in a different light than do the set of twelve-string symphonies that are his most frequently performed works of the period.
It is coming up to five years since Sarah Chang, then in her early teens, made her brilliant and moving concerto recording debut in the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto on EMI (12/93). Her concerto recordings for the label since then have been of brilliant showpiece works like the Lalo Symphonie espagnole (5/96) and the Paganini First Concerto (1/95) rather than of the central repertory. It is good here to have her remarkable artistry revealed again at full stretch in astonishingly mature interpretations of the Mendelssohn and Sibelius concertos.
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.
Continuing his award-winning cycle of works by Felix Mendelssohn, Sir John Eliot Gardiner leads the LSO, his Monteverdi Choir and three talented young actors from the Guildhall in a landmark performance of 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream', which was performed as part of the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. To mark the celebrations, Gardiner produced a special version of the work featuring some cuts to the original movements that, in his words, "remove all of the music relating to the Mechanicals and thus focus on the world of the fairies and the human lovers". Mendelssohn, who adored Shakespeare’s writings, composed his concert overture based on 'A Midsummer Night’s Dream' in 1827 aged 17, after having read a German translation of the play. The overture was immediately acclaimed as a masterpiece and quickly became a popular favourite throughout Europe. Years later in 1843 he was asked by the King of Prussia to provide a score for an entire production: 14 short works based on themes and moods from the original overture, with a broadly romantic sound although classical in style and structure.