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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
String Symphonies (1821-1823)
No. 8 in D Major [26:27]
No. 9 in C minor [30:18]
No. 10 in b minor [9:30]
Concerto Köln
Recorded in Cologne in July 1994. DDD
WARNER - ELATUS -2564-60124-2

Mendelssohn was not yet a teenager when he began writing his symphonies for string orchestra as composition lessons for his teacher Carl Friedrich Zelter. That a mere child could produce music of such charm and refinement is indeed amazing, but then again, most everything came easily for this Mozart of the Romantic era. I have opined before in these virtual pages that Mendelssohn was the greatest melodist of the nineteenth century. These charming and witty pieces serve to further reinforce my opinion.

These are works that only the dourest could not enjoy. Just about every serious record collector should have at least one disc of these little gems in his collection. But one would do well to avoid this one.

If pressed for a general reaction to these performances, mine would have to be "Whatís the rush?" Concerto Köln seem to be in a blind panic as they whiz through this music at a dizzying pace. The intended result, of course, is for the listener to be bowled over by this ensembleís virtuosity. Alas, they do not possess enough of it to pull off their own tempo choices. Elegant lines become shapeless blurs, counterpoint from the inner voices is lost, and cadences seldom settle. Because of this grand prix mindset, the playing is often just plain sloppy, with the players simply unable to execute the notes cleanly

Why so many "early music" ensembles seem to think that everyone who wrote music before 1900 was late for his wedding is beyond me. Goodness, it took as long as three days travel to attend a live concert in Mendelssohnís day. Something tells me that once one arrived, one expected to get a fairly large dose of entertainment. At the speeds applied here you could get through fifteen works in a couple of hours.

Slower movements fare a bit better, but I could not help but feel that all of the pathos had been removed from them, and that we were left with some sterile, albeit pretty, harmonious segments. If attention was being paid to any kind of a singing line, it was lost on me.

There is nothing wrong with Teldecís sound quality, and although the packaging is pretty generic, the notes are adequate and in multiple languages. So what to do? This is obviously a reissue, and so it is most likely inexpensive. That is a plus. And, if you are a fan of fellows like Roger Norrington, who seem to feel that all music, regardless of style should sound like Vivaldi, well then this might be a disc you would enjoy. As for me, however, I think that I would be willing to shell out the big bucks for the complete set of the string symphonies as performed by the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. If money is a concern, Naxos has a set that although not sine qua non is still pretty darned good and certainly worth the investment of seven dollars a disc.

Seems as though I have been on a bit of a negative roll of late, but this disc does not impress me, and I cannot recommend it in good faith to our loyal readership.

Kevin Sutton

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