Mendelssohn - String Octet in E flat in Cheltenham
The Ashes Octet – two young ensembles, The Barbirolli Quartet and Australian String Quartet, teamed up as Australia and England were battling it out on the cricket pitch. Theirs was a more harmonious performance.
"Mendelssohn's Octet, performed with such verve and relish, made this the climax of a fortnight of chamber recitals." Roger Jones, Music Web International
Includes HD Video & Audio files
Recorded at the Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, on the 18th July, as part of the 2009 Cheltenham Music Festival
Felix Mendelssohn – String Octet in E flat, Op.20
I. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco – 13:55
II. Andante – 7:37
III. Scherzo – 4:37
IV. Presto – 6:28
HD Video and Audio – 32 minutes
Audio recorded by Lyndon Jones and Matthew Jolly
Mixed and mastered by Simon Weir for The Classical Recording Company
Cameras by Steve Brand, Steve Webb and Pete Moseley
Video editing by Tangent Films
Produced by Lyndon Jones and Matthew Jolly
With thanks to Meurig Bowen and all at Cheltenham Music Festival
The Barbirolli Quartet
Rakhi Singh, violin I
Katie Stillman, violin III
Ella Brinch, viola I
Ashok Klouda, cello I
Australian String Quartet
Sophie Rowell, violin II
Anne Horton, violin IV
Jürg Dähler, viola II
Rachel Johnson, cello II
The Grove Dictionary of Music calls it his first indisputable masterpiece; while Sir George Grove, who founded the dictionary and knew Felix Mendelssohn personally, said the composer had ‘as expressive a pair of eyes as were ever set in a human being’s head’.
Unlike most of us, who spent our sixteenth years contemplating acne in the mirror, these expressive eyes were fixed on manuscript paper, as Felix Mendelssohn busied himself creating music that would take the world’s breath away. No young genius in the history of music – not even Mozart – had flung himself at a new medium like this with such confidence and dexterity.
So why an Octet? What possessed this teenager to burst from his musical nursery with a piece that wasn’t just extravagant, but shows a terrifyingly assured grasp of musical language and argument, and is anything but a dry exercise in compositional technique – it’s a boundless affirmation of youth, vitality and joy.
The first movement – lasting almost half the length of the piece – bursts into life, brimming with confidence, calling for high-wire virtuosity, particularly from the leader. Mendelssohn wrote this for the talents of his friend Eduard Rietz, and here Rakhi Singh rises to this musical challenge. Then in the slow movement Mendelssohn explores emotional depths that seem simply impossible for a callow youth, opening with violas and cellos, their plea is answered by violins, and gradually a movement of elegant symmetry unfolds. In the scherzo – a form that would become a Mendelssohn house speciality – there are allusions to Goethe, the greatest of German poets, who the teenager had met just a few months earlier. And then the finale – music of gymnastic complexity – imagine Oscar Wilde and Stephen Fry at a dinner table with half a dozen comparable wits, and Mendelssohn’s banter is the musical equivalent.
And this performance? It’s particularly special, given as part of the 2009 Cheltenham Music Festival in the sublime acoustic of the Pittville Pump Room. As part of Artistic Director Meurig Bowen’s ‘World Quartets’ series, and with the echoes of the unfolding drama of the Ashes series in the distance, two quartets – one Australian and one English – join forces in a spirit of musical collaboration that celebrates the value of great music as a unifying cultural force. The ‘Ashes’ Octet. I think Felix would have enjoyed the joke.