Australian Chamber Orchestra BIS USUAL opinion has it that Mendelssohn’s string Octet in E flat and his overture to A Midsummer
Night’s Dream are his earliest masterpieces, written when he was 16 and 17 respectively. But among his prolific output before then was an impressively large Concerto for Violin, Piano and Strings in D minor, which he wrote soon after his 14th birthday and performed in a house concert with his violinist friend Eduard Ritz in May 1823. It sparkles with conversational vivacity between the two solo instruments, but as churlish as it is to criticise the work of a young teen, this concerto is no masterpiece. It is almost as if young Felix could not decide whether he was composing a chamber work or a concerto, because in giving all the action to the soloists he lets the orchestra fall silent for long stretches. The melodies are not particularly memorable either. Nevertheless, the Australian Chamber Orchestra, violinist Richard Tognetti and pianist Polina Leschenko give this work a most persuasive performance that almost succeeds in disguising its structural failings. The soloists play with exquisite lyrical delicacy. Their use of rubato is heavy at times, but the result is utterly charming. The interest of this recording otherwise falls on a work the ACO always performs well, Mendelssohn’s Octet. This it plays here with miraculously ebullient musicianship. Many interpretations of this work strive for a genial mildness, but not so the ACO’s. The players give it bracing vigour, but grace too, all of which adds up to a greatly satisfying performance of this gem of a work.