Tag Archives: Complete String Quartets

Mendelssohn: The Five Symphonies

Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra

Sebastian Lang-Lessing (conductor)



ABC Classics 476 4623 (3CDs + DVD)



TPT: 128’ 52”

reviewed by Neville Cohn


Last year, when the world was awash with performances of the music of Mendelssohn to mark the bicentenary of the composer’s birth in 1809, many regular concertgoers who thought they had a good overview of his music, found themselves on an often gratifying journey of discovery. This applied particularly to his chamber music, the complete string quartets, say, which for many might well have proved revelatory.  


As far as the symphonies are concerned, most concertgoers would readily be able to identify the works dubbed Scottish and Italian. They are frequently performed and with good reason. And mini-polls I’ve conducted in the foyers of this or that concert venue around the city reveal clearly that, frequently, even the keenest of music followers have only the vaguest ideas about the existence of Mendelssohn’s other symphonic utterances apart from the ubiquitous Third and Fourth.


Bear in mind, too, that by the time Mendelssohn got round to composing what we know now as his Symphony No 1, he had been at work in the genre for much of his adolescence, producing a stream of so-called string symphonies. Many of these are astonishingly original without a hint that they’d been written by a teenager.


This 3-CD + DVD set will, I believe, bring many new adherents to the flag, not least for providing an opportunity to hear works that only very rarely appear on concert programmes these days.


Listen to Sebastian Lang-Lessing’s direction of the Tasmania Symphony Orchestra in Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 1. How splendidly this fine ensemble evokes the ebullience of the first movement. It’s a performance which brims with energy, again and again carrying the listener forward on the crest of a finely stated orchestral wave. Lang-Lessing and the TSO are no less persuasive in the second movement; its gentle, lyrical calm makes it a near-perfect foil for the energetic bustle that precedes it.


In the Minuetto, Mendelssohn’s usually sure touch is less apparent; it is overly bucolic music and the Trio excessively solemn and serious. But the finale is inspired as is its performance, not least for excellent clarinet playing and precise pizzicato which add  significantly to the engaging bustle of the music.














The Scottish Symphony is in a class of its own. How intriguing that a German could identify so profoundly with Scotland based on the briefest of visits to that part of the world. (Consider, too, the quite magically atmospheric Fingal’s Cave Overture. When will some musical Scot turn out a couple of masterpieces after some brief encounter with Germany? Don’t hold your breath!)



Lang-Lessing makes magic of the first movement. Clarinet playing in the Vivace non troppo is beyond reproach in a movement that is as Scottish as a tartan kilt and sporran.

A shrewd commentator once described the finale as “a wild dance of rude Highlanders who stamp furiously into a smug coda………”. And who would gainsay that view on the basis of this splendidly bracing account?


Almost invariably, when Mendelssohn visited England, there’d be an invitation to Buckingham Palace. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert were great admirers of the famed composer – and Victoria would, shyly, sing some of the lieder by “dear Dr Mendelssohn” with the composer accompanying at the piano. And when the composer asked if he might dedicate his Scottish Symphony to her, she agreed at once. Victoria would often attend public performances of Mendelssohn’s music which invariably ensured full houses.


Inspiration informs just about every moment of this account of the Italian Symphony with Lang-Lessing and the TSO coming through with honour not only intact but enhanced. There’s not a dull moment here. The quick movements crackle with energy, the opening allegro vivace splendidly precise at top speed as is the ever-engaging Saltarello. Intriguingly, this exquisite movement, which sounds as if it might have been conceived in a single, sustained burst of highest inspiration, never quite satisfied the composer who seriously considered revising it. Happily, he didn’t; it comes as close to perfection as anything he ever wrote.


But not even the skill and commitment of the players can persuade this listener that the first movement of the Reformation Symphony is other than ponderously dull and the allegro vivace that follows amiable but unremarkable. Mendelssohn’s inspiration was no less in short supply in the pompous, lacklustre finale. But that certainly does not lessen the importance of including it – and the dreary and overlong Lobgesang – in this important recording enterprise.


It says a great deal for the skill and commitment of both conductor and orchestra that, for the duration of Lobgeasang and the Reformation symphony, these works sound far better than they in fact are.

Beloved of the Gods

Dean Emmerson Dean Trio

Tinalley String Quartet

TPT: 68’08”

Melba MR301121


reviewed by Neville Cohn

Kegelstatt Trio (Mozart)

Papamina Suite (Mozart arranged Emmerson)

Quartet in A minor op 13 (Mendelssohn)

Around the world, innumerable recitals and concerts have marked the bicentenary of Felix Mendelssohn’s birth in 1809.

Earlier this year at the Perth International Arts Festival, his complete string quartets  were programmed. For many, perhaps most, of those who attended these performances, it was a musical journey of discovery that brought home emphatically that there is so very much more to Mendelssohn than some of his sentimental Songs without Words, elfin-type essays of one type or another, the hackneyed Wedding March and, of course, the ubiquitous  – and exquisite – Violin Concerto in E minor.

Played by the Tinalley String Quartet, Mendelssohn’s opus 13 in A minor makes compelling listening. The opening adagio – allegro vivace is given a model reading in which the composer’s musical argument is expounded in sometimes achingly beautiful terms.

Crown of this recording is the Intermezzo, a haunting little dance episode that is the quintessence of sadness that bring to mind those heartbreaking moments immediately after Rigoletto discovers that his daughter Gilda has been kidnapped; it’s a brief interlude of despair beyond despair. Here, the Tinalley musicians take up an interpretative position at the emotional epicentre of the music. In a finale that rivets the attention, the players, after a brief obeisance to the opening moments of the closing movement of of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, respond to the score in an intensely dramatic way.

Recording engineers: step forward and take a bow for your skill in magically capturing a performance of Mozart’s engaging Kegelstatt Trio on disc. It doesn’t happen very often that there is such fidelity in a recording that it sounds as if the performance is taking place ‘live’ in your lounge or wherever you happen to be listening. It is a joy to hear – and, happily, the performance is on a par with that.  So, too, does Stephen Emmerson’s arrangement for the same instrumentation – Brett Dean (viola), Paul Dean (clarinet), Stephen Emmerson (piano) – of a suite drawn from Mozart’s The Magic Flute.  It’s a recorded performance of great distinction. It’s a finely managed oscillation between good humour and deep emotion, a model of its kind that deserves to be heard by many. Bravo!

Neither of the composers represented on this disc saw their fortieth birthday. Imagine what riches the world was deprived of by their tragically early demise. Imagine, too, what might have issued from Mozart’s pen had he lived another year – another month! The same could be said of Mendelssohn.