MENDELSSOHN: The 13 Complete String Symphonies; alternate version of String Symphony No. 8 with added winds – Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Lev Markiz – BIS

by | Apr 28, 2008 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

MENDELSSOHN: The 13 Complete String Symphonies; alternate version of String Symphony No. 8 with added winds – Amsterdam Sinfonietta/Lev Markiz – BIS single stereo-only SACD-1738, 4 hours 15:55 [Distr. by Qualiton] *****:

That four hours of playing time above is not a typo!  I’m placing this review in our Hi-Res Section because the disc is a SACD, but the technology was used only to achieve the ultra-extended playing time on one disc, not to offer the usual hi-res and surround sound. BIS has a separate 4-CD set of these String Symphonies, and other labels also offer it on three or four CDs.  There are normally three layers on each SACD: one with the hi-res multichannel surround version, one with a hi-res stereo-only version, and lastly a standard 16-bit PCM CD layer which makes the disc compatible. When there is no surround mix and no CD mix, the entire capacity becomes available, at over 80 minutes per layer, and with no interruptions as it goes from one layer to another. So this is not a hybrid SACD.

The original 44.1K/26-bit recordings were made from 1993 thru 1995 in Holland.  BIS transferred those original tapes into stereo DSD format, which has been now put on the stereo SACD layer of this disc. There is no claimed enhancement in the audio over the standard multiple CDs, but there are no interruptions in the 13 works and the cost of the single disc is a major savings over the three and four disc sets. (This reminds me of Chandos once putting all the piano music of some composer on two CDs by mixing it to mono and using the left and right channels individually. Only in the current example you are not losing anything over the original recordings and you don’t have to deal with disconnecting one channel to listen to the recordings!)

To the music:  Mendelssohn was between the ages of 11 and 15 when he composed these 13 symphonies – phenomenal!  They are still played around the world – acclaimed for their maturity and terrific inspiration, which surpass the youthful compositions of Mozart at that age. The early  symphonies show the influence of Mozart and Haydn and even W. F. Bach, but Mendelssohn quickly found his own voice – an energetic and optimistic  style with perfect proportion and structure.  No. 6 still has Mozart’s  spirit but is undeniably Mendelssohn’s unique style.  By No. 8 he is writing a work over 30 minutes length. It has four movements and seems like a normal symphony – especially in the transcription for an orchestra with added winds, which Mendelssohn undertook right after writing the string version. A performance of this version closes out the collection – tracks 41 thru 44! No. 13 is unfinished, with only a seven-minute first movement.  The composer lost interest in it because he was beginning to plan his real First Symphony for full orchestra.

The Amsterdam Sinfonietta was established in 1988 and has had a permanent place on the Dutch music scene ever since. Originally  they emphasized Russian repertory due to their musical director being the conductor of this recording, Lev Markiz.  But today they have a wide repertory, including some world premieres of contemporary music.  The chamber orchestra is not an early instrument aggregation, and the one set of all the String Symphonies I had on hand – The Hanover Band conducted by Roy Goodman on RCA Red Seal – is.  Although the sonics are comparable on the two albums, I prefer the richer string tone of the Amsterdam ensemble, and they also emphasize the lighter and more sprightly feeling of Mendelssohn’s music.

– John Sunier

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