Polina Leschenko / Richard Tognetti / Australian Chamber Orchestra

Mendelssohn: Concerto for Violin and Piano; Octet

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Felix Mendelssohn made his mark as a pianist and composer in his teenage years, and this album of his Concerto for violin, piano and strings in D minor and the Octet for strings in E flat major directly illustrates that point. Composed when Mendelssohn was 14, the concerto was intended as vehicle for his violin teacher, Eduard Ritz, and himself, and it was ostensibly inspired by a concerto for the same solo instruments by Johann Nepomuk Hummel, his composition teacher. This is clearly the work of an enthusiastic virtuoso with a lot to show off and express, and despite Mendelssohn's studious imitation of Bach in the opening theme, he found his own voice from the entrance of the piano and violin and worked out his themes in an ingenious mix of Baroque, Classical, and Romantic styles. The octet, written as a birthday present for Ritz when Mendelssohn was 16, is generally acknowledged as the young composer's first true masterpiece, and there is no doubt that competing impulses merged in this piece to produce an ideal balance of Classical form and Romantic ardor. This recording by violinist Richard Tognetti, pianist Polina Leschenko, and the Australian Chamber Orchestra renders the concerto with a distinct placement of the violin and piano in front of the strings, and the flashy details of both parts are easy to hear. The octet, performed by members of the orchestra's string section, is more complicated in its mixing, for prominent parts overlap with secondary lines, and the textures, while rich, are constantly shifting in a symphonic manner. This hybrid SACD is a sonic treat for anyone who loves great chamber music, and BIS deserves kudos for giving the musicians the best possible sound.

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