LABELS: Sony Vivarte
PERFORMER: L’Archibudelli & Smithsonian Chamber Players
CATALOGUE NO: SK 48307 DDD
The city of Washington DC houses more than just presidents. The per capita ratio of Stradivarius instruments to inhabitants is the highest of any city in the world. This quite remarkable recording of the Mendelssohn and Gade octets boasts every player performing on a Strad. (Anner Bylsma plays the ‘Servis’, on which he recently recorded all the Bach Suites for Sony Classical.) All four strings of each instrument are gut, leading to a sparer, cooler, individual sound, particularly as vibrato is used sparingly. But what may be missed in terms of a fruitiness of tone is abundantly compensated for in clarity of attack and extraordinarily accurate ensemble playing, particularly in the last movement of the Mendelssohn, the beginning of which all too frequently comes out as a mush of notes.
Mendelssohn’s Octet, written in 1825 when he was still only 16, never ceases to amaze in its freshness, invention and full symphonic sound, created more by the individual use of eight players than the doubling of a string quartet. Few chamber works stand comparison with this masterpiece and Niels Gade’s Octet written in 1848, a year after Mendelssohn’s death, merely underlines this fact. Gade was a close associate of Mendelssohn and his Octet is formally laid out as Mendelssohn’s. But there the similarities end. Annette Morreau