About this Recording
8.553163 - MENDELSSOHN: String Symphonies, Vol. 3

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 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, adding, on 29th December, a final thirteenth, the Sinfoniesatz. 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. The thirteenth symphony, started in December that year, was replaced by a fully orchestrated work, to become his Symphony No.1 in C minor, 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.

String Symphony No.10 in B minor survives in the form of a single movement, which may have been followed by others, now lost. It starts with a slow introduction that suggests something of Haydn. This is followed by a dramatic Allegro that has about it much of the idiom that Mendelssohn was to make his own. The first subject is in an ominous mood, followed by a lyrical second subject, material developed with all characteristic élan.

String Symphony No.11 in F major was not numbered and is a more extended work than the others, with its five movements. It starts with a solemn Adagio introduction, followed by an Allegro in which traces of Mozart or of Schubert might be detected, yet with an increasingly original voice. There is a return to the mood of the opening before the movement comes to an energetic and dramatic end. The Scherzo that follows makes use of a Swiss folk-song, an Emmental wedding-dance, a provenance that suggests the final use of percussion. This reminiscence of a holiday in Switzerland is absorbed into a more sophisticated classical musical idiom, in the manner of Haydn, until its last re-appearance. There is an Adagio of gently moving beauty and mature assurance, leading to a Minuet, a burst of energy that provides an immediate contrast, relaxing into a more lyrical Trio. The last movement includes the necessary late classical ingredient of counterpoint in its fugal writing, a Baroque legacy from which Mendelssohn had profited and which he here absorbs into an idiom increasingly his own.

Mendelssohn's String Symphony No.12 in G minor starts with a slow Baroque introduction, leading to a fugue with an initially descending scale subject, to which secondary material provides a contrast. There is an intensely felt Andante and a vigorous final Allegro molto that strikes an immediate dramatic attitude. Here again there are contrapuntal episodes, contrasts of texture, as smaller groups of instruments are used in the manner of chamber music, and hints of music soon to come in the following year or two.

The Sinfoniesatz in C minor was replaced by the subsequent Symphony No.1 in C minor for full orchestra, written three months later and originally bearing the numbering of thirteen. The single movement work, String Symphony No.13, starts with the dotted rhythms of a Baroque French overture. Scored for double violas, it continues with an Allegro molto fugal movement, contrasting ascending and descending thematic material.

Northern Chamber Orchestra
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. The orchestra has undertaken a series of eighteen century recordings for Naxos, featuring symphonies of Haydn, Mozart, Beck and Hofmann.

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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