I should come clean with the fact that the wonderful Octet is my favorite Mendelssohn work so would never say anything negative about another recording of it. Not that there’s anything wrong with this new release. It has a rich and full string sound, and the performers are not just any pickup eight players but two of the finest Czech string quartets. The coupling of the Octet with the overlooked Sextet is unusual but appropriate since the posthumously-published work dates from the the same time frame – when the composer was only 14 to 16 years old! It pulls out the stops of the normal piano sextet – to the dimensions of a sort of chamber piano concerto. Not just the piano but also the viola is given a major and virtuosic part.
The brilliant Octet is brighter and livelier than most other octets, including another of my favorites – Schubert’s. The melodies are captivating and the rhythmic interest never las. There are also portions that seem to prefigure Mendelssohn’s later hit – the incidental music for Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. While for its two-channel mix or the surround mix with a normal ambience-only signal in channels 4 & 5 the Praga recording is a fine choice, I also find the visceral involvement of sitting in the middle of all eight string players even more exciting, which is possible with the version on a Tacet DVD -Audio which we reviewed back in 2002.
– John Sunier