About this Recording
8.553161 - MENDELSSOHN: String Symphonies, Vol. 1

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 Abraham Mendelssohn and grandson of the great Jewish thinker Moses Mendelssohn, the model for Lessing's Nathan the Wise, the epitome of tolerance in a generally intolerant world. In 1812 the family moved to Berlin after the French occupation of Hamburg and it was there that Mendelssohn received his education, in music as a pupil of Carl Zelter, for whom the boy seemed a second Mozart. As a child he was charming and precocious, profiting from the wide cultural interests of his parents and relations, excelling as a pianist and busy with composition after composition. In 1816 he was baptized a Christian, a step that his father took six years later, accepting what Heine described as a ticket of admission into European culture, although it was one not always regarded as valid by prejudiced contemporaries.

Abraham Mendelssohn sought the best advice when it carne to his son's choice of career. Cherubini, director of the Paris Conservatoire, was consulted, and, while complimenting Abraham Mendelssohn on his wealth, agreed that his son should become a professional musician, advice given during the course of a visit to Paris in 1825, when Mendelssohn met many of the most distinguished composers and performers of the day. In Berlin his career took shape, with prolific composition and activity as a pianist and as a conductor. His education was to include a period of travel throughout Europe, a Grand Tour that took him as far north as Scotland and as far south as Naples, his journeys serving as sources of inspiration.

In 1835 Mendelssohn was appointed conductor of the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra. There were, at the same time, other commitments to be fulfilled in a short career of intense activity. In Leipzig he established as eries of historical concerts, continuing the revival of earlier music on which he had embarked under Zelter with the Berlin performance of Bach's St. Matthew Passion in 1829. At the same time he gave every encouragement to contemporary composers, even to those for whom he felt little sympathy. At the insistence of the Prussian King Friedrich Wilhelm IV he accepted an official position in Berlin, but this failed to give him the satisfaction he had found in Leipzig, where he established the Conservatory in 1843 and where he spent his final years until his death at the age of thirty-eight on 4th November 1847, six months 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, dated 27th November 1822, and the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth, completed in March, May, July and September 1823 respectively. A thirteenth symphony, started in December that year, was replaced by a fully orchestrated work, to become his Symphony No.1 in C major, Opus 11. The string symphonies were written when Mendelssohn was a pupil of Zelter and reflect the inclinations of the teacher and Mendelssohn's own clear debt to earlier classical models, with an increasing interest in the contrapuntal practices of Bach and Handel. This last is evident in the minor key Andante of the String Symphony No.2 in D major, with its exploration of contrasting string textures, with a more classical use of imitative counterpoint in the final Allegro vivace. The third of the set, the String Symphony in E minor opens dramatically, proceeding with an increasingly 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, followed by a contrapuntal Allegro. There is a more lyrical major key Andante, breaking off to become a final Allegro vivace, in which again full use is made of counterpoint.

String Symphony No.5 in B flat major, completed ten days after its predecessor, on 15th September 1821, starts with impressive unanimity in a movement in which the opening descending bass motif has continuing importance. There is a tender second movement and an energetic final Presto. The String Symphony No.6 in E flat major continues Mendelssohn's exploration of the possibilities of the classical form, with a central movement that consists of a Minuet and two Trios.

Northern Chamber Orchestra, Manchester
Formed in 1967, the Northern Chamber Orchestra has established itself as one of England's finest chamber ensembles. Though often augmented to meet the requirements of the concert programme, the orchestra normally contains 24 musicians and performs both in concert and on disc without a conductor. Their repertoire ranges from the baroque era to music of our time, and they have gained a reputation for imaginative programme planning.

Concerts take the orchestra throughout the North of England and it has received four major European bursaries for its achievements in the community. With a series of recordings of Haydn and Mozart symphonies for Naxos the orchestra makes its début on disc.

Nicholas Ward
Nicholas Ward was born in Manchester in 1952, the son of parents who had met as members of the Hallé Orchestra. In consequence music played an important part in his life from childhood, allowing him, after less successful attempts as a pianist, to learn the violin and, at the age of twelve, to form his own string quartet. This last continued for some five years, until he entered the Royal Northern College of Music in Manchester, where he studied with Yossi Zivoni and later, in Brussels, with André Gertier. In 1977 Nicholas Ward moved to London, where he joined the Melos Ensemble and the Royal Philharmonic, when the orchestra worked under Antál Dorati as its Principal Conductor. He became co-leader of the City of London Sinfonia in 1984, a position followed by appointment as leader of the Northern Chamber Orchestra, of which he became Music Director two years later, directing from the violin. In this form the orchestra has won high regard for its work both in the concert hall and the broadcasting studio.

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