MENDELSSOHN: String Symphonies, Vol. 2 (John Taylor/ Nicholas Ward/ Northern Chamber Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553162)
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Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)
String Symphony No.7 in D minor
String Symphony No.8 in D major
String Symphony No.9 in C 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,with the first seven all composed in 1821. The eighth was completed the nextyear, on 27th November 1822, with wind parts added a few days later, while theninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth were written in March, May, July andSeptember 1823 respectively. A thirteenth, started in December that year, wasreplaced by a fully orchestrated work, to become his Symphony No.1 in Cmajor, Opus 11. These early symphonies reflect the teaching of Carl Zelter,while there is evidence of the composer's early absorption of the technicallessons to be learned from his predecessors, notably from Bach and from Mozart.
Even at the early age of twelve he had acquired a certain facility in the use oftechnical compositional resources, giving an air of adult assurance to whateverhe wrote.
String Symphony No.7 in D minor opens with a strongly marked rhythmicfigure, followed by gently resolving suspensions. The opening subject lendsitself to dramatic contrapuntal treatment, in a musical idiom that has nowbecome Mendelssohn's own. The second movement is tenderly moving in itsantiphonal use of instrumental groups. There is an energetic Minuet and acontrasting Trio, with an imitative opening. There is dramatic tension inthe start of the rapid final Allegro molto, which finds a necessary andappropriate place for contrapuntal episodes.
There is a solemn introduction to String Symphony No.8 in D major, themood changing with the major Allegro, in the expected tripartite form,handled with a mature confidence worthy of Mozart. The Adagio makes useof three solo violas, cello and double bass, with dark-hued colouring thatrecalls the great two-viola G minor Quintet of Mozart in its sonorities.
The mood is lightened by the cheerful Minuet, with its contrasting Trio.
There is a Mozartian finale, providing, in its inspired fugal counterpoint,a brilliant conclusion.
String Symphony No.9 in C major opens with a sombre slow introduction,followed by a lighter-hearted Allegro, its vigorous first subject leadingto a more lyrical second subject, with a contrapuntal development at the heartof the movement. The Andante again makes use of solo instruments, thistime four solo violins, accompanied by two violas, cello and double bass, inmusic that is effective in its moving contrasted chamber-music texture. Thebrilliant Scherzo has a Trio inspired by a holiday in Switzerland,a yodelling song, described in the autograph score simply as La Suisse.
The opening of the last movement portends drama, leading before long to thedeft handling of counterpoint that is now expected.
Northern Chamber Orchestra, Manchester
Formed in 1967, the Northern Chamber Orchestra has established itself as one ofEngland'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 met asmembers of the Halle Orchestra. In consequence music played an important partin his life from childhood, allowing him, after less successful attempts as apianist, 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.