String Symphonies No.9 in C minor; No.10 in B minor; No.12 in G minor
Concerto in A minor for Piano and Strings
John Ogdon (piano)
Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields
Recorded in 1965 (Symphonies) & 1969 in Kingsway Hall, London
Reviewed by: Paul Cherry
Reviewed: November 2006
CD No: DECCA ELOQUENCE
Duration: 77 minutes
This is all music that Mendelssohn composed as a teenager. His twelve String Symphonies are not often heard; yet like so much of this underrated composer’s output, each has something individual to offer. It’s a shame that while such as the ‘Italian’ Symphony and the E minor Violin Concerto are played so often, other works of Mendelssohn’s that warrant as much attention tend to slip by the wayside.
Neville Marriner’s 1965 accounts of this trio of String Symphonies are very enjoyable; the number of musicians could be more than here, though, and the sound is a little piercing at times. The dynamic range is also rather limited – fine for a Walkman but less pleasing for ‘proper’ listening and this may have suffered due to less than judicious re-mastering (the original Argo LPs would probably do more justice to the original production (one of the credited engineers is Kenneth Wilkinson). Nevertheless the music is often adorable, and the performances, if now rather straight and streamlined to ‘enlightened’ ears, are sympathetic enough to reveal what lovely and highly-crafted music this is.
The four-movement Symphony No.9 is a work of substance and beguiling invention, Marriner appreciating the elegance and beauty of the writing and investing some fire into the scherzo; the finale though is rather humdrum – as music and as a rendition – too much made of the ‘moderato’ instruction. The B minor work is altogether different, a one-movement ‘short’ that is a real gem; the placid opening gives way to a bustling ‘main’ section that never fails to shine; here Marriner and his fine players give a lively account (even if the coda is rather too quick and not organic enough with what has gone before). I treasure the version made for Philips by I Musici. The baroque stance and ‘severe classicism’ of Symphony No.12 is well appreciated by the Academy, as is the heart-touching opening of the central Adagio and the vigour of the Bach-like finale.
The Concerto in A minor adds a piano to the strings. Interesting that John Ogdon should concern himself with a relatively slight piece such as this; once again one can marvel at Mendelssohn’s facility and it would be no surprise if the brilliance of the work suggested Hummel to the ‘innocent ear’. A most enjoyable piece, to be sure, without being particularly memorable, and Ogdon and the Academy play with infectious zeal. The recording places the piano as very much part of the orchestra – a natural balance, one that gives a real sense of partnership between soloist and orchestra, and affords Ogdon some moments of genuine dynamism. The radiant slow movement is a highlight; not bad for a 13-year-old.