Mendelssohn: Concerto in D minor for violin, piano and strings
This concerto betrays the belief of most 14-year-old boys that more is more. The first movement, here lasting nearly 18 minutes, is way too long for its material and is padded out with the sort of empty virtuosity that Mendelssohn found all around him in the 1820s. How to deal with this professionally astonishing but artistically dubious material is a problem. Play it straight, with unvarying tempos? Or try and mould it into something more satisfying? The players here choose the second option, with fluctuating tempos and an unabashed enjoyment in the rather unimaginative passagework. Once or twice I felt their speeds were too quick, but their technical prowess is unquestionable.
The Octet dates from two years later; rarely can a composer’s development – from journeyman to genius – have been so radical over so short a time. The double bass opening of the finale, though, is a miscalculation on Mendelssohn’s part, and here the player goes for energy rather than notes, so that E flat major emerges only gradually from the fog. The slow movement is treated tenderly but unsentimentally, and the scherzo fizzes with superb give-and-take between the instruments. In the first movement, the leader momentarily clips a high F sharp on the way up to the G, but overall this is a vivid performance with strong dynamic contrasts, as marked, and shapely phrasing.