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Reviews: Mendelssohn: Complete String Symphonies - Markiz

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Reviews: 2

Review by georgeflanagin March 26, 2010 (7 of 8 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
ADHD Summary:

This is an excellent disc. It is surprising in the "Mendelssohn year" that no one has yet reviewed this disc. At $23 for 265 minutes of music, it is a must for anyone interested in Mendelssohn. (Yes: I will briefly argue the case for BIS's SACD-only portfolio.)

The Music:

These 14 pieces of music, starting at a dozen minutes in length and growing to thirty eight minutes at Symphony #11, were written between 1821 and 1823. Two are incomplete (10 and 13), and #8 exists in two orchestrations. In them, Mendelssohn studied compositional problems and worked out aesthetically attractive solutions both by himself, and with his teachers.

The first few are stylistically imitative of the previous generation of composers, as if Master Felix is trying on clothes that did not quite fit, but beginning with Symphony 7, Mendelssohn finds his own voice, an attractive and lyrical voice. Taken as a whole, it is remarkable to have the opportunity to see just how much a pre-teen can learn in two and half years. If only I could do the same in my mid-50s.

To my ears, the most interesting bits and pieces are the adagio of #8, the one movement fragment of #10, Symphony #1 (where he tries on Haydn's wardrobe), and the opening movement of #12.

The Performance:

Let's start out with something of a rebuttal. If you visit Amazon, you will read the review by Gerald Parker on the Amazon page covering the original issue of these recordings on RBCD. I disagree with most of what is said about Markiz and the New Amsterdam group.

Their playing is clean, and I sense none of the war on/with Mendelssohn's music. Because these pieces are not recorded to death like the five "mature" symphonies that start in 1824, other than Ross Pople's set on Hyperion and Boughton's set on Nimbus, there is not of comparison to be done. Fortunately, all three sets are good.

String symphonies always run the risk of too much homogeneity and not enough color. Not so here: the Minuet (more of a Scherzo) in Symphony #7 is so well done that I found myself hearing an orchestral sound that was missing nothing. The recording is a little "close," which helps give the sounds of individual violin-family instruments more character.

Markiz takes the direct approach to performing these pieces: he does not try to make them sound like Mozart, nor does he try to shape them with Beethoven's dramatics, nor does he try to perform them as if they were from Mendelssohn's adult years and the wind parts were somehow lost. They are just performed well and enjoyably. What is said about Markiz's conducting in the reviews of SACD-1766 holds here, as well.

The Sound:

During my recovery from ACDF surgery, I spent a lot of time listening to these and other extended play recordings in part because I did not have to get up from the chair as often. I am now familiar with the sound. Perhaps BIS will come out with a few more before my next orthopaedic intervention.

There is just enough hall sound to make it seem natural without there being any muddiness to the sound. L-R balance is good, and the sound is focussed and clean on each of my three systems, as well as the headphone feed. I found the overall sound to be more enjoyable than the Pople set on Hyperion, and this disc about 60% the price of the Hyperion discs.

The engineer in me will just say this flat out: If you think there is loss in the transfer and format conversion of 44/16 LPCM data to DSD data you are mistaken. It is not true. It is false. Clearly BIS believe that 44/24 LPCM data will map into the bits of DSD without an identifiable problem, and one would have to accept the argument that if 24 bit words will "fit," 16 bits words also fit.

I have spent a fair amount of my professionally employed time working on DSP-like problems that involve multiple data formats, and it seems safe to say that anything that can be represented as 44/16 LPCM data can be accurately converted to DSD format without loss.

I suppose it is possible that the two different DACs (for LPCM and DSD data) differ so much in your machine that the DSD transfer worsens your personal results, but that should affect all SACDs. The DAC doesn't know the provenance of the source bits.

Bottom Line:

Buy it today. Operators are standing by.

( c ) 2010 George Flanagin and

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Review by Guermantes June 19, 2010 (4 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
These aren't among Mendelssohn's high-profile works but there are now a few recordings available on disc. georgeflanagin has done a great job of summarizing the music so I'll just add that the String Symphonies tend to be Classical in style rather than the more Romantic Mendelssohn that we are familiar with from works such as the Violin Concerto, etc.

As I haven't heard other conductors' or ensembles' take on the String Symphonies I'll refrain from much criticism of the performances. Overall Markiz and the Amsterdam Sinfonietta are engaging and lively, matched with an almost Baroque sensitivity that strikes a nice balance between counterpoint and melody which is what the pieces demand.

I was surprised to learn from the booklet that these are transfers from 16-bit LPCM (the original recorder was a DAT). The sound has great clarity and is not at all harsh--I have heard much, much worse on SACD. Perhaps it lacks that extra depth and extension that recent DSD and LPCM recordings can exhibit but the original recording was done with good engineers who used good equipment and has been transferred well to DSD.

I don't mind the lack of a CD layer at all. Surprisingly, because the 4 hours is on one disc rather than spanning 3, I find myself more inclined to listen to the whole thing. Of course the lack of a CD layer makes transferring the recordings to other devices for portable listening more difficult, so if this is important to your listening lifestyle then you might see it as a negative.

All in all a good set of these works at a good price. I'm very tempted to pick up the companion disc of the Complete Concertos, too.

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