Mendelssohn’s Octet: James Ehnes and the Seattle Chamber Music Society

A few weeks ago, we explored Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64 with a 2011 recording featuring James Ehnes. That album also includes Mendelssohn’s famous string Octet, performed by Ehnes and members of the Seattle Chamber Music Society. It’s a great recording by an all-star lineup of musicians. (All the names are listed below with the album link). Mendelssohn was 16 when he wrote the Octet in E-flat Major in 1825. Yet, …

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Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto: “The Heart’s Jewel”

In 1906, on the occasion of his 75th birthday, the great Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim offered an assessment of what remain four major pillars of the solo violin repertoire: The Germans have four violin concertos. The greatest, most uncompromising is Beethoven’s. The one by Brahms vies with it in seriousness. The richest, the most seductive, was written by Max Bruch. But the most inward, the heart’s jewel, is Mendelssohn’s. Indeed, Felix Mendelssohn’s …

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Mendelssohn’s Stormy Sixth Quartet: The Schumann Quartet at Banff

We often associate the music of Felix Mendelssohn with light, sparkling effervescence (as in the scherzos from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Octet) and a unique fusion of Romanticism with backward glances at the crystalline, contrapuntal classicism of J.S. Bach. The String Quartet in F minor, Op. 80, Mendelssohn’s final composition, inhabits a shockingly different world. Completed two months before the composer’s premature death at the age of 38 at a time when he was mourning the loss of his beloved …

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Henryk Szeryng: Eight Great Recordings

Tomorrow marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Henryk Szeryng (1918-1988), one of the twentieth century’s greatest violinists. “When hearing Szeryng in live performances, one is always struck by the nobility and aristocracy of his concept,” wrote Boris Schwarz in his book, Great Masters of the Violin. In the recordings below, we hear effortlessly shaped phrases and a sense of singing through every note. Born in Poland, Szeryng studied with Carl Flesch in Berlin and was later …

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Mendelssohn Meets Bach: The Second Cello Sonata

Visit the eastern German city of Leipzig and you’ll find yourself walking in the footsteps of countless great composers. Two prominent examples are J.S. Bach and Felix Mendelssohn. Bach was Kapellmeister at Leipzig’s St. Thomas Church from 1723 until his death in 1750. A hundred years later, Mendelssohn led the Gewandhaus Orchestra from 1835 to 1847. Mendelssohn was instrumental in bringing about a renewed interest in the music of J.S. Bach. Amid the elegant simplicity of the …

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Jascha Heifetz in Concert: Five Amazing Clips

There is no top. There are always farther heights to reach. If one thought himself at the pinnacle, he would slide back toward mediocrity by that very belief in his success. -Jascha Heifetz Watch performance clips of Jascha Heifetz (1901-1987), and you may get a vague sense of the supernatural. Is Heifetz playing the violin or is some much larger force at work, playing through him? A searing, highly-controlled energy and a fearless …

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The Power of Six Notes: Exploring the “Dresden Amen”

On Friday, we listened to a few excerpts from Wagner’s epic final opera, Parsifal. Today, let’s return to one of Parsifal‘s most powerful and persistently recurring leitmotifs: the majestic, ascending six-note motive known as the “Dresden Amen.” This liturgical chord sequence was written by Johann Gottlieb Naumann (1741-1801) for use in Dresden’s court chapel some time in the late 18th century. It spread quickly to both Catholic and Lutheran churches throughout the German state of Saxony …

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