Mendelssohn: Octet (CD review)
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.
William (Bill) Heck, Contributing Reviewer
Among my early childhood memories are those of listening to my mother playing records (some even 78 rpm ones!) of both classical music and jazz tunes. I suppose that her love of music was transmitted genetically, and my interest was sustained by years of playing in rock bands – until I realized that this was no way to make a living. The interest in classical music was rekindled in grad school when the university FM station serving as background music for studying happened to play the Brahms First Symphony. As the work came to an end, it struck me forcibly that this was the most beautiful thing I had ever heard, and from that point on, I never looked back. This revelation was to the detriment of my studies, as I subsequently spent way too much time simply listening, but music has remained a significant part of my life. These days, although I still can tell a trumpet from a bassoon and a quarter note from a treble clef, I have to admit that I remain a nonexpert. But I do love music in general and classical music in particular, and I enjoy sharing both information and opinions about it.
The audiophile bug bit about the same time that I returned to that classical music. I’ve gone through plenty of equipment, brands from Audio Research to Yamaha, and the best of it has opened new audio insights. Along the way, I reviewed components, and occasionally recordings, for The $ensible Sound magazine. Recently I’ve rebuilt--I prefer to say reinvigorated--my audio system, with a Sangean FM HD tuner and (for the moment) an ancient Toshiba multi-format disk player serving as a transport, both feeding a NAD C 658 streaming preamp/DAC, which in turn connects to a Legacy Powerbloc2 amplifier driving my trusty Waveform Mach Solo speakers, supplemented by a Hsu Research ULS 15 Mk II subwoofer.