MENDELSSOHN: String Symphonies, Vol. 3 (John Taylor/ Nicholas Ward/ Northern Chamber Orchestra) (Naxos: 8.553163)
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Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy (1809 - 1847)
String Symphony No.10 in B minor
String Symphony No.11 in F major
String Symphony No.12 in G minor
String Symphony No.13 in C minor (Sinfoniesatz)
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,adding, on 29th December, a final thirteenth, the Sinfoniesatz. The firstseven were all composed in 1821, with the eighth a year later, dated 27thNovember 1822, and the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth, completed in March,May, July and September 1823 respectively. The thirteenth symphony, started inDecember that year, was replaced by a fully orchestrated work, to become his SymphonyNo.1 in C minor, 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.
String Symphony No.10 in B minor survives in the form of a singlemovement, which may have been followed by others, now lost. It starts with aslow introduction that suggests something of Haydn. This is followed by adramatic Allegro that has about it much of the idiom that Mendelssohn wasto make his own. The first subject is in an ominous mood, followed by a lyricalsecond subject, material developed with all characteristic elan.
String Symphony No.11 in F major was not numbered and is a moreextended work than the others, with its five movements. It starts with a solemn Adagiointroduction, followed by an Allegro in which traces of Mozart or ofSchubert might be detected, yet with an increasingly original voice. There is areturn to the mood of the opening before the movement comes to an energetic anddramatic end. The Scherzo that follows makes use of a Swiss folk-song, anEmmental wedding-dance, a provenance that suggests the final use of percussion.
This reminiscence of a holiday in Switzerland is absorbed into a moresophisticated classical musical idiom, in the manner of Haydn, until its lastre-appearance. There is an Adagio of gently moving beauty and matureassurance, leading to a Minuet, a burst of energy that provides animmediate contrast, relaxing into a more lyrical Trio. The last movementincludes the necessary late classical ingredient of counterpoint in its fugalwriting, a Baroque legacy from which Mendelssohn had profited and which he hereabsorbs into an idiom increasingly his own.
Mendelssohn's String Symphony No.12 in G minor starts with a slowBaroque introduction, leading to a fugue with an initially descending scalesubject, to which secondary material provides a contrast. There is an intenselyfelt Andante and a vigorous final Allegro molto that strikes animmediate dramatic attitude. Here again there are contrapuntal episodes,contrasts of texture, as smaller groups of instruments are used in the manner ofchamber music, and hints of music soon to come in the following year or two.
The Sinfoniesatz in C minor was replaced by the subsequent SymphonyNo.1 in C minor for full orchestra, written three months later andoriginally bearing the numbering of thirteen. The single movement work, StringSymphony No.13, starts with the dotted rhythms of a Baroque French overture.
Scored for double violas, it continues with an Allegro molto fugalmovement, contrasting ascending and descending thematic material.
Northern Chamber Orchestra
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 theorchestra throughout the North of England and it has received four majorEuropean bursaries for its achievements in the community. The orchestra hasundertaken a series of eighteen century recordings for Naxos, featuringsymphonies of Haydn, Mozart, Beck and Hofmann.
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