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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Symphony No.9 in C Minor for Strings (1823) [25:31]
Symphony No.10 in B Minor for Strings (1823) [7:31]
Symphony No.12 in G Minor for Strings (1823) [17:19]
Concerto in A Minor for Piano and Strings (1822) [26:36]*
John Ogdon (piano)*
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
rec. 1966; 1970* ADD
DECCA ELOQUENCE 476 8460 [77:16]

Australian Eloquence has unearthed more long-buried treasure with this generous reissue.

Mendelssohn is best known nowadays for his third and fourth symphonies, his Hebrides Overture and his incidental music to Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. For those who want to get to know him better, it is worth delving into his earlier works. Mendelssohn was, of course, one of musicís most famous child prodigies. The works of his teenage years, including those collected on this disc, are far superior to anything Mozart wrote at the same age. This music is unfailingly tuneful, tightly constructed and, more importantly, memorable.

It is easy to forget that the three string symphonies, written by the composer in his fourteenth year, were actually composition exercises completed as part of his musical education. The ninth string symphony is in the traditional four movements. It strikes a serious tone immediately with the grave introduction to its first movement, which soon reverts to a bright Mozartian allegro. The solo violin writing in the slow movement is lovely and the short Beethovenian scherzo is played here with élan. It is interesting to note that the fresh and breezy final movement is in sonata form, while the first movement is not. There is more than a little Haydnesque humour in this last movement, with Mendelssohn setting cheeky traps for his listenerís expectations.

The tenth string symphony exists as a single opening movement, time having stripped the others away. As with the opening movement of the ninth, it features a sombre introduction, that then shakes off the gloom and reveals itself as a sparkling allegro. This string symphony seems to be the one most in tune with the composerís own times, tinged with Schubert, rather than looking back to earlier models.

The twelfth string symphony is very much focused on earlier music, moving back in time from the Classical to the Baroque. It opens with a grand overture in French style, which features a spicy chromatic fugue, moves through a gentle andante and finishes with a racy finale which recalls Mozartís late symphonies.

The disc closes with the 13 year old Mendelssohnís concerto for piano and strings. Beethovenís influence is strongly felt in Mendelssohnís writing for piano, and Mozartís in the accompaniment. John Ogdon is a surprisingly sensitive soloist. He manages to hold his thunder and allow his pianism to sparkle instead. Despite the minor key, this music smiles. The helter-skelter at the end of the third movementís finale points to the music of romantic composers yet to come. The gorgeous, languid central adagio recalls the mood of the slow movements of Beethovenís third and fifth concertos. It is easily my favourite movement of this concerto, and my favourite movement on this disc.

It almost goes without saying that this repertoire suits Marriner and co down to the ground. If you have become accustomed to hearing your Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven played by period ensembles, or at least in period style, you may take a little while to adjust to the Academyís fuller string tone and generous vibrato. When you do, though, you will be charmed by their enthusiasm and carried along at Marrinerís well-chosen tempi. The recording shows its age only slightly, with more body to the sound in the concerto than in the brightly lit string symphonies, which were recorded four years earlier. Stephen Schaferís liner notes are superb.

If you are looking to experience more of the young Mendelssohn, then this is the disc for you.

Tim Perry



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