Mendelssohn: Octet in E flat major (CD review)

Also, Bruch: Octet in B flat major. Kodaly Quartet, Auer Quartet. Naxos 8.557270.

Like so many musical geniuses, German composer Felix Mendelssohn (1809 -1847) was a child prodigy, producing his famous Octet in E flat major, Op. 20, at the age of sixteen. The music is filled with the youthful high spirts we would expect, yet it's also got the captivating magic and maturity so eloquently and zestfully displayed in his overture to A Midsummer Night's Dream, which he wrote around the same time in 1825.

Coupled with the Mendelssohn Octet we find the Octet in B flat major by German composer and conductor Max Bruch (1838-1920), a work Bruch composed in the year of his death, 1920. Bruch's music was something of a throwback to the traditional music of the nineteenth century, so it is no surprise that his Octet should owe so much to Mendelssohn's music of almost a hundred years earlier. Both pieces are romantic, flowery, exuberant, flamboyant, lyrical, with moments of serenity and repose amidst dashing élan. It's interesting to note, too, that Bruch's music was pretty much out of fashion by the early twentieth century, yet today it is largely his music and that of other eighteenth and nineteenth-century composers that make up most of the basic repertoire of classical record albums and classical concert programming. Perhaps good tunes never go out of style.

I enjoyed this disc a lot, as played by the combined forces of the renowned Kodaly Quartet and the more-recently formed Auer Quartet. For the paltry price one pays for the Naxos bargain disc, it seems like a bargain. However, the Mendelssohn performance would not displace my current favorite recording of the work from the period-instruments group Hausmusik on EMI. Compared to this Naxos release, their recording is more transparent, and their performance is gentler and more poetic.

Nonetheless, the quicker tempos of the Kodaly-Auer ensemble would seem to go hand in glove with Mendelssohn's youthful enthusiasm. And finding the Mendelssohn Octet combined on the same disc with the Bruch Octet, one could hardly go wrong.

JJP

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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