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Felix Mendelssohn - His Life and Music
by Neil Wenborn
ISBN 978-1-84379-232-1 - 13
Experience Classicsonline

This new concept by Naxos links a well-written biography on Mendelssohn (1809-1847) by Neil Wenborn with two CDs of extracts that relate to chapters of composition in Mendelssohn's life. The illustrated book is well written and well presented, with quality printing on substantial art paper. It follows the composer's development of talent and gives historical background.
I am not sure what strategy was used to select the audio material representative of Mendelssohn's career. Was it rarity (where there are few recordings of the chosen works), quality of performance or historical timescale? The audio extracts chosen generally relate to Naxos recordings but not exclusively. Nothing has been recorded expressly for this audio book, nor would one expect Naxos to do so.
There is a fair spread of material, with a substantial number of piano works. The inclusion of more than one of Mendelssohn's Preludes is surprising because these works have not been particularly popular. Likewise, the String Quartets. The representation of his numerous String Symphonies (No. 8) may not have been mine, but I agree that it was a milestone and in 1822 clearly a reflection of the composer's ambition. Since a key chapter tells us much about the well-received St Paul oratorio, I was surprised that no CD track was devoted to it when we have two extracts from A Midsummer's Night Dream. Memorable for its elegant Overture (1826), its well known Nocturne is also included, despite being written much later (in 1843) to accompany a German adaptation of Shakespeare's play.
One might ask what kind of buyer the book is pitched at since it is academically written to satisfy an earnest audiophile or student, yet provides CD tracks that include the over-familiar ten minute Hebrides Overture 'Fingal's Cave' known to the novice. On the matter of track extracts, perhaps there are too many examples of piano works and too few to expose Mendelssohn's orchestral output.
There is a link provided to a dedicated Naxos website on the composer, but I was unable to tie in the website link when following the details shown: for web access: a user's code and password need to be used yet the book omits to explain every step. Naxos Customer Services were unable to respond in four days, even after sending a prompt. An acknowledgement suggested a response would be forthcoming 'within 24hrs'.
Certainly, the album of book and 2 CDs is attractively priced at 13 and would be an ideal companion for a music student or audiophile wishing to explore the interesting career and styles of this composer.
Raymond J Walker 

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