Mendelssohn: String Symphonies Vol. 1

L’Orfeo Barockorchester, Michi Gaigg
cpo 777 942-2

One’s initial reaction to seeing this CD listed in a catalogue might be, “Why is a self-styled Barockorchester playing Mendelssohn?” In fact, that pedigree is precisely what makes this recording such a success – the fact that Michi Gaigg and company come to the music from the past rather than the future (as it were!) means that the unfathomably young Mendelssohn’s take on writing ensemble pieces for four-part strings (which he then accompanied from the keyboard!) makes total sense. Think C. P. E. Bach (though with perhaps displaying a little more of his father’s strict contrapuntal control than the original) discovering 19th-century harmony; arguably the only discernible difference is that Mendelssohn already makes clear distinction between the three movements of each symphony.

Some may wonder why the six works on this first of two discs were not recorded in numerical order, but it would be difficult to argue that this marvellous ensemble could have chosen a more dramatic opening than Symphony IV! The CD cover shows how children Mendelssohn’s age should have been entertaining themselves rather than composing such intense and accomplished music, and makes his prodigious talents all the more remarkable. Buy this and start saving for the next installment!

Brian Clark