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Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847)
Concerto in D minor for Violin, Piano and Strings (1823) [35.26]
Octet in E flat major Op.20 [30.50]
Polina Leschenko (piano); Richard Tognetti (violin)
Australian Chamber Orchestra
rec. Eugene Goossens Hall, ABC Ultimo Centre, Sydney, Australia, February 2012
The review is of the SACD multi-channel layer.
BIS HYBRID SACD1984 [66.58]


 
Until this recording arrived for review I had been unaware of how good the Australian Chamber Orchestra was. What a superb group of musicians! With the exception of the pianist Polina Leschenko all other participants are members of this fine orchestra including violin soloist Richard Tognetti who also leads the Octet. As usual BIS have blessed the project with a first class recording that allows all details to tell and yet to remain within a believable acoustic space.
 
If I were to pick any holes I would rather like to have heard the Concerto on a period piano instead of the modern concert grand which has a good deal more power than is required for this essentially 18th century music. The thorough notes by Horst A. Scholz tell us that Mendelssohn composed the Concerto for Violin and Piano in May 1823 at the ripe old age of 14. It is less the antecedent of Hummel that one hears than the influence of Carl Philip Emmanuel and even Johann Christian Bach. There is no problem whatever with a young protégé emulating his predecessors when it is done so beautifully. The concerto is a joy to hear providing you do not expect the Mendelssohn of the Violin Concerto in E minor of 1844 or of the mature symphonies. Both soloists play with wonderful accuracy and joie de vivre. The three movement form is absolutely to the classical standard except for the considerable length of the opening Allegro which runs for nearly 18 minutes, a length even Mozart rarely reached.
 
The real shock is that only two years elapsed before the entirely characteristic Octet for Strings was composed. Here at 16 we have a fully fledged Mendelssohn. Despite the large number of earlier chamber pieces this was his real breakthrough and a complete masterpiece. The form of the double quartet is not unknown, Spohr wrote four but the first of these only predated Mendelssohn's Octet by two years and is far more a work for two string quartets, as the name implies. Mendelssohn composes for a full integrated group of four violins, two violas and two cellos. He even states on the title page that the work must be played 'in the style of a symphony'. Few other pieces like this are in the repertoire even today. The eight strings of the Australian Chamber Orchestra play with finesse and vitality such that they fear no comparisons with the competition, even the most prestigious. There being almost no repertoire for a string octet all performances on record are by groups brought together, or extracted, for the occasion.
 
Those seeking a recording should consider the present issue very seriously because the coupling is unusual and the whole is better recorded that any other I know.
 

Dave Billinge