Mendelssohn String Octet & Franck Piano Quintet

Mendelssohn composed the Octet as a birthday present for his friend and violin teacher Eduard Rietz, he pointed out specifically that 'this Octet must be played by all instruments in symphonic orchestral style. The work is indeed texturally remarkable in that it manages to combine the intimacy of chamber music and the richer sound of an orchestral canvas with effortless ease. Although this is the work of a mere sixteen year-old it actually represents him in the first flush of youthful maturity, and it is arguable that he never quite recaptured its ecstatic exuberance, inventive ardour and sheer joie de vivre. It comes as no surprise to find Mendelssohn saying — somewhat nostalgically — in later life: 'I had a beautiful time writing it'.

Franck’s Quintet was composed in the years 1878-9 and was dedicated to Saint-Saëns. Its tone is ardent and its harmonic structure is generous. The writing for piano is typical of this composer, being technically demanding not so much in terms of sheer virtuosity but rather in the frequent awkwardness of the intervals and the alteration of what might have been straightforward figurations by the injection of unexpected chromatics. Franck was a devotee of cyclic architecture, and in this work he followed this procedure with the confidence born of experience. As a result the quintet strikes home as a convincing unity, in spite of its unashamed emotionalism and broad dramatic scope.

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