Mendelssohn: Complete String Symphonies / Hofstetter, Stuttgarter Kammerorchester

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MENDELSSOHN String Symphonies Michael Hofstetter, cond; Stuttgart CO ORFEO C 763093 D (3 CDs: 221:27)

The well-publicized childhood musical genius of Mozart and Schubert was surpassed by that of Mendelssohn, as witnessed by the 13 string symphonies he completed by age 15. The third of these string symphonies already shows mastery, by this mere child, of the art of contrapuntal writing. This and other signs of precocious musical genius increased as the composer matured through each of the succeeding 10 string symphonies. The first six are imitative of Schubert and Beethoven, but in the Seventh String Symphony in D Minor, Mendelssohn begins to express his individuality. From the Ninth on, Mendelssohn moves forward at a galloping pace, with glorious fugal movements and fugal passages proliferating. The 11th String Symphony, in F Major/F Minor, is my favorite. Mendelssohn augments the second movement, marked Commodo (Schweizerlied) , with percussion at its conclusion. The 13th String Symphony is incomplete, consisting of only a single movement that shows further mastery of contrapuntal writing.

Michael Hofstetter, the principal conductor of the renowned Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra and follower of a line of succession that started with the orchestra’s founder, Karl Münchinger, gives us a commendable set of these early Mendelssohn masterpieces. But the playing is relatively subdued and the conducting is characterized by too weak a beat for my taste. Other listeners may prefer this approach, which uses a small chamber orchestra, to my favored version by Kurt Masur and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra with its fuller string complement. In terms of the era, Hofstetter’s approach is Baroque in character—small ensemble with restrained vibrato—whereas Masur’s is contemporary and closer to late 19th century. The latter seems to me to be more in line with what Mendelssohn meant to convey, closer to Beethoven than to Bach, but who really knows? In the first movement of the 11th Symphony, Hofstetter fails to take the very important exposition repeat, whereas Masur wisely observes it. This is the only textual difference that I found.

This disc is a very good Baroque-style alternative to Masur’s exceptionally fine modern performances. On that basis, it is recommended.

FANFARE: Burton Rothleder

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: ORF-C763093

  • UPC: 4011790763323

  • Label: Orfeo

  • Composer: Felix Mendelssohn

  • Conductor: Michael Hofstetter

  • Orchestra/Ensemble: Stuttgart Chamber Orchestra