About this Recording
8.553162 - MENDELSSOHN: String Symphonies, Vol. 2

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 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, with the first seven all composed in 1821. The eighth was completed the next year, on 27th November 1822, with wind parts added a few days later, while the ninth, tenth, eleventh and twelfth were written in March, May, July and September 1823 respectively. A thirteenth, started in December that year, was replaced by a fully orchestrated work, to become his Symphony No.1 in C major, Opus 11. These early symphonies reflect the teaching of Carl Zelter, while there is evidence of the composer's early absorption of the technical lessons 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 of technical compositional resources, giving an air of adult assurance to whatever he wrote.

String Symphony No.7 in D minor opens with a strongly marked rhythmic figure, followed by gently resolving suspensions. The opening subject lends itself to dramatic contrapuntal treatment, in a musical idiom that has now become Mendelssohn's own. The second movement is tenderly moving in its antiphonal use of instrumental groups. There is an energetic Minuet and a contrasting Trio, with an imitative opening. There is dramatic tension in the start of the rapid final Allegro molto, which finds a necessary and appropriate place for contrapuntal episodes.

There is a solemn introduction to String Symphony No.8 in D major, the mood changing with the major Allegro, in the expected tripartite form, handled with a mature confidence worthy of Mozart. The Adagio makes use of three solo violas, cello and double bass, with dark-hued colouring that recalls 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 leading to a more lyrical second subject, with a contrapuntal development at the heart of the movement. The Andante again makes use of solo instruments, this time four solo violins, accompanied by two violas, cello and double bass, in music that is effective in its moving contrasted chamber-music texture. The brilliant 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 the deft handling of counterpoint that is now expected.

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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