By programming Felix Mendelssohn's 1825 String Octet in E flat major back-to-back with César Franck's Piano Quintet in F minor of 1879, the Medici String Quartet seems to take a Janus-like view of 19th century chamber music, looking backward to the late Classical era and anticipating the later developments of Romanticism. Joined by the Alberni String Quartet in Mendelssohn's Octet, the musicians give the music a youthful vigor that touches on brusqueness, and the cheerfulness and elegance of the performance certainly point to Mendelssohn's inspiration, Mozart. Performing the Franck Quintet with pianist John Bingham, the group goes into the denser terrain of Wagnerian chromaticism, as adapted to French sensibility, and the heavier textures and richer harmonies show just how far Romantic music had developed by the 1870s. With such a contrast between the works, listeners may need to adjust somewhat to the dark brooding of the Franck, which almost comes as a shock after the brightness of the Octet. Nimbus Records captures both works with clear details, though the acoustics of All Saints' Church, Petersham make the sound of the Octet rather hazy and unfocused, while the Quintet is warmer and cleaner in the room at Wyastone Leys, Monmouth.
AllMusic Review by Blair Sanderson
|Octet in E flat major, Op. 20|
|Piano Quintet in F minor|