Mendelssohn: Octet (CD review)

Also, Boccherini:  Quintet in C major for Cello and Strings, Op. 37, No. 7. Academy of St. Martin in the Fields. Decca Originals 475 7716.

Most often the reissues from major studios are self-recommending, especially when they appear in series like EMI's "Great Recordings of the Century" or DG and Decca's "Originals." Such is the case here with the Mendelssohn Octet for Strings, Op. 20, played by members of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

The very fact that Decca-Argo recorded it in 1968 and originally released it on the Argo label should be enough to induce music fans to buy it. It was a golden age and a golden label for great recordings.

One of the remarkable things about the Octet is that Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) wrote it in 1825, when he was only sixteen years old, yet it is still one of his most-popular compositions.  Not that this should surprise anybody; while in his teens he wrote a slew of sonatas, quartets, songs, and such, including the Overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream the year after the Octet, and the Overture, too, remains among the most-popular pieces of music in the world.

Hugh Maguire, Neville Marriner, Iona Brown, and Trevor Connah on violins, Stephen Shingles and Kenneth Essex on violas, and Kenneth Heath and Denis Vigay on cellos perform the Octet. They play immaculately, yet they play with such affection for the music, you'd think they were born to it. There is nothing stodgy here; the performance is light, graceful, spirited, and invigorating by turns. Like its companion piece on the disc, the Boccherini Quintet in C major, it is a total delight.

One listen and you would probably agree with me that there is little difference between the sound of this analogue recording and the sound of any above-average digital recording made today. Indeed, the 1968 sound, somewhat closely miked, is better than most new digital recordings--smooth, clean, quiet, and detailed.

It's hard not to love this album.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa