MENDELSSOHN: String Symphonies, Vol. 1 (John Taylor/ Nicholas Ward/ Northern Chamber Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553161)
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Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)
String Symphonies Vol. 1
Symphony No.1 in C major
Symphony No.2 in D major
Symphony No.3 in E minor
Symphony No.4 in C minor
Symphony No.5 in B flat major
Symphony No.6 in E flat major
Felix Mendelssohn was born in Hamburg in 1809, son of the banker AbrahamMendelssohn and grandson of the great Jewish thinker Moses Mendelssohn, themodel for Lessing's Nathan the Wise, the epitome of tolerance in a generallyintolerant world. In 1812 the family moved to Berlin after the French occupationof Hamburg and it was there that Mendelssohn received his education, in music asa pupil of Carl Zelter, for whom the boy seemed a second Mozart. As a child hewas charming and precocious, profiting from the wide cultural interests of hisparents and relations, excelling as a pianist and busy with composition aftercomposition. In 1816 he was baptized a Christian, a step that his father tooksix years later, accepting what Heine described as a ticket of admission intoEuropean culture, although it was one not always regarded as valid by prejudicedcontemporaries.
Abraham Mendelssohn sought the best advice when it carne to his son's choiceof career. Cherubini, director of the Paris Conservatoire, was consulted, and,while complimenting Abraham Mendelssohn on his wealth, agreed that his sonshould become a professional musician, advice given during the course of a visitto Paris in 1825, when Mendelssohn met many of the most distinguished composersand performers of the day. In Berlin his career took shape, with prolificcomposition and activity as a pianist and as a conductor. His education was toinclude a period of travel throughout Europe, a Grand Tour that took him as farnorth as Scotland and as far south as Naples, his journeys serving as sources ofinspiration.
In 1835 Mendelssohn was appointed conductor of the Leipzig GewandhausOrchestra. There were, at the same time, other commitments to be fulfilled in ashort career of intense activity. In Leipzig he established as eries ofhistorical concerts, continuing the revival of earlier music on which he hadembarked under Zelter with the Berlin performance of Bach's St. MatthewPassion in 1829. At the same time he gave every encouragement tocontemporary composers, even to those for whom he felt little sympathy. At theinsistence of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV he accepted an officialposition in Berlin, but this failed to give him the satisfaction he had found inLeipzig, where he established the Conservatory in 1843 and where he spent hisfinal years until his death at the age of thirty-eight on 4th November 1847, sixmonths after the death of his beloved sister Fanny.
Mendelssohn wrote his twelve String Symphonies between 1821 and 1823.
The first seven were all composed in 1821, with the eighth a year later, dated27th November 1822, and the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth, completed inMarch, May, July and September 1823 respectively. A thirteenth symphony, startedin December that year, was replaced by a fully orchestrated work, to become his SymphonyNo.1 in C major, Opus 11. The string symphonies were written whenMendelssohn was a pupil of Zelter and reflect the inclinations of the teacherand Mendelssohn's own clear debt to earlier classical models, with an increasinginterest in the contrapuntal practices of Bach and Handel. This last is evidentin the minor key Andante of the String Symphony No.2 in D major, withits exploration of contrasting string textures, with a more classical use ofimitative counterpoint in the final Allegro vivace. The third of the set,the String Symphony in E minor opens dramatically, proceeding with anincreasingly contrapuntal texture. A major key Andante is in contrast,capped by a final return to the dramatic mood of the first movement.
String Symphony No.4 in C minor starts with a slow introduction, followedby a contrapuntal Allegro. There is a more lyrical major key Andante, breakingoff to become a final Allegro vivace, in which again full use is made ofcounterpoint.
String Symphony No.5 in B flat major, completed ten days after itspredecessor, on 15th September 1821, starts with impressive unanimity in amovement in which the opening descending bass motif has continuing importance.
There is a tender second movement and an energetic final Presto. The StringSymphony No.6 in E flat major continues Mendelssohn's exploration of thepossibilities of the classical form, with a central movement that consists of a Minuetand two Trios.
Northern Chamber Orchestra, Manchester
Formed in 1967, the Northern Chamber Orchestra has established itself as oneof England's finest chamber ensembles. Though often augmented to meet therequirements of the concert programme, the orchestra normally contains 24musicians and performs both in concert and on disc without a conductor. Theirrepertoire ranges from the baroque era to music of our time, and they havegained a reputation for imaginative programme planning.
Concerts take the orchestra throughout the North of England and it hasreceived four major European bursaries for its achievements in the community.
With a series of recordings of Haydn and Mozart symphonies for Naxos theorchestra makes its debut on disc.
Nicholas Ward was born in Manchester in 1952, the son of parents who had metas members of the Halle Orchestra. In consequence music played an importantpart in his life from childhood, allowing him, after less successful attempts asa pianist, to learn the violin and, at the age of twelve, to form his own stringquartet. This last continued for some five years, until he entered the RoyalNorthern College of Music in Manchester, where he studied with Yossi Zivoni andlater, in Brussels, with Andre Gertier. In 1977 Nicholas Ward moved to London,where he joined the Melos Ensemble and the Royal Philharmonic, when theorchestra worked under Antal Dorati as its Principal Conductor. He becameco-leader of the City of London Sinfonia in 1984, a position followed byappointment as leader of the Northern Chamber Orchestra, of which he becameMusic Director two years later, directing from the violin. In this form theorchestra has won high regard for its work both in the concert hall and thebroadcasting studio.