Author Topic: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet  (Read 691 times)

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Offline aukhawk

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Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« on: September 16, 2017, 04:45:15 AM »
Another week, another mini-blind comparison -
this time Mendelssohn's Octet for strings, Op.20 in in E flat major.

The sample chosen is the well-known 3rd Movement, Scherzo, here edited for brevity.  Basically all these recordings do repeat the opening statement, but in these samples you only hear the repeat, not the initial statement.  The edit occurs within the first 2 seconds of each file, so if you hear any roughness here that's just me being clumsy, not the performers. 
Duration ends up around 3m30 on average, and there are 10 samples to listen to, so about 35 minutes.

Mendelssohn wrote this 4-movement octet at age 16  ???  (Arguably it was all downhill after that.)  The outer movements are quite substantial and very fine, but this Scherzo is (or should be) a wispy, gossamer-like affair, pre-echoing his Midsummer Night's Dream music (Op.21).  The fun is equally shared among all the musicians, with twiddly motifs being bounced around between them.  It's quite interesting to listen to this music on headphones, because the various groups distribute themselves spatially in different ways. 
Early performances were private affairs, the first in 1825, but it wasn't publicly premiered until 1836, and the score not published until after Mendelssohn's death.

Most - but not all - of these performances are HIP-influenced to greater or lesser degree.

These links and files will be removed after a couple of weeks (actually I 'll be on holiday until then, so may seem a bit monosyllabic if I respond). 
[Links and files now removed]
« Last Edit: October 15, 2017, 12:04:34 AM by aukhawk »

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2017, 03:37:16 AM »
How exciting! Until a few years ago, I hadn't ever listened to this piece. I then bought a version from Berkshire, so will be interesting to compare some different alternatives. 
Offenbach gets a raw deal in recordings considering his talent! For a discussion of this outstanding composer too little recorded: http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,5572.

Online Spineur

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2017, 06:55:01 AM »
Mendelssohn octet is a gorgeous work which I actually played in my youth.  A blind comparison isnt going to be easy.  Varying the tempi changes the character of the piece quite a bit.  I will participate.  I currently have those two recordings

Prazak&Kocian quartets


and the Melos ensemble from this set




« Last Edit: September 17, 2017, 07:02:12 AM by Spineur »
A woman voice glides like the wind
Of black, of damp, of night
And all it touches in this flight
Suddenly is over.

Anna Akhomatova

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2017, 03:14:35 AM »
Are you sure it isn't Hausmusik playing the Octet in that set?

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #4 on: September 18, 2017, 02:48:32 PM »
I've added a 10th - sorry!  :-\  (Also listed in the OP)
10.              File 10

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #5 on: September 18, 2017, 02:56:44 PM »
I've added a 10th - sorry!  :-\  (Also listed in the OP)
10.              File 10

Ah! The intrigue! :)
Offenbach gets a raw deal in recordings considering his talent! For a discussion of this outstanding composer too little recorded: http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,5572.

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #6 on: September 24, 2017, 05:30:05 PM »
#1 - Lively. Resonant. Too staccato? Not always in tune. Too many inconsistencies.  Ok.
#2 - Faster. Lighter. Fleeter. Pleasing. Better control, with some exceptions in precision of tempo. Better.
#3 - Slower. Good unison and detail. I like that lead violin seems less overly prominent. Well done, even if I prefer tempo of #2. Even better. 
#4 - Odd sound. Hated sound of violin. Brightness has been neutered. Not enough transparency. Good unison (maybe even best so far). Too staccato. Frustrating.
#5 - Better sound. Restrained sound to lead violin. Wonderful ebb and flow. Perhaps lacking dynamic difference at times.  Very good.
#6 - Tad slower. Similar to #5 in many ways. Same positives and negatives. 
#7 - Faster. Like the balance, but some lack of unison in moments (mushy). Still, pretty good.
#8 - Hair faster. Good unison. A shade resonant. A couple moments of slowing.- out of place. Still - Pleasing.
#9 - Another good one. Perhaps just a hair too staccato. Middle a bit weaker.
#10 - Fuller sound. Well recorded in terms of hearing things clearly. Fuller at times.

Order: 3,5,8,10,6,9,7,2,1>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>4

I liked #3 most, but #5-10 were all quite good. It was hard to order them and any of them seemed worthy. But after some repeated listening, I felt that #3, #5 and #8 stood out. #3 was perhaps the slowest, but I felt it best brought out the details and the ebb and flow. Time seemed to stop, so that was a good sign. There was a bit more legato to it in the overall movement and I liked that. I also liked the balance, but then I liked the balance of pretty much most of them, despite any differences. I utterly detested #4 though.
Offenbach gets a raw deal in recordings considering his talent! For a discussion of this outstanding composer too little recorded: http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,5572.

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #7 on: September 24, 2017, 11:01:40 PM »
Thanks . I remember when no.4 was released . long time ago . it was hailed as a state-of-the-art recording  ::)

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #8 on: October 02, 2017, 07:42:07 AM »
Back now, with a proper keyboard.   :-*

Of these 10, I only knew 3 versions before I assembled this comparison.  They were Nos 4, 8 and 5, purchased in that order evenly spaced over a period of 40 years.  (I know, last of the big spenders  ;D)  I was always very happy with #4 until I eventually bought #8 which I preferred mainly because it was a CD update to my vinyl collection, with a more detailed recording (though not the greatest, viewed in retrospect).
#5 seems more overtly HIP than the other two (though all have some credentials) and has easily been my preferred version since I acquired it.

So finding more recordings to add into the mix was an interesting and enjoyable exercise.  I found several of them at least as enjoyable as #5 and one of them - I agree with mc ukrneal, #3 - is my new preferred version over all.  Actually, the 3rd movement as presented here is the weakest part of version #3, so I'm quite surprised you picked it out on the basis of these clips.  It's not perfect though - the recording isn't great and the tempi (I agree again) are generally a bit slow which can't be right in this mercurial and fidgety music. 
#10 has nearly all of the same pluses and minuses of #3, with the benefit of a greatly superior recording - but there is one BIG problem ...  :-X

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #9 on: October 03, 2017, 10:05:48 PM »
Back now, with a proper keyboard.   :-*

Of these 10, I only knew 3 versions before I assembled this comparison.  They were Nos 4, 8 and 5, purchased in that order evenly spaced over a period of 40 years.  (I know, last of the big spenders  ;D)  I was always very happy with #4 until I eventually bought #8 which I preferred mainly because it was a CD update to my vinyl collection, with a more detailed recording (though not the greatest, viewed in retrospect).
#5 seems more overtly HIP than the other two (though all have some credentials) and has easily been my preferred version since I acquired it.

So finding more recordings to add into the mix was an interesting and enjoyable exercise.  I found several of them at least as enjoyable as #5 and one of them - I agree with mc ukrneal, #3 - is my new preferred version over all.  Actually, the 3rd movement as presented here is the weakest part of version #3, so I'm quite surprised you picked it out on the basis of these clips.  It's not perfect though - the recording isn't great and the tempi (I agree again) are generally a bit slow which can't be right in this mercurial and fidgety music. 
#10 has nearly all of the same pluses and minuses of #3, with the benefit of a greatly superior recording - but there is one BIG problem ...  :-X
Wow. Very interesting indeed! I wasn't too bothered by the sound quality of #3, but I was concerned by picking the slowest. I also had a debate whether I could put it first because it wasn't entirely what it should be. But I found it so convincing, in and of itself, that I went with it. But the overall quality was quite high and that made listening to these quite a joy. Thanks again!
Offenbach gets a raw deal in recordings considering his talent! For a discussion of this outstanding composer too little recorded: http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,5572.

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #10 on: October 10, 2017, 01:28:16 AM »
Oh well - dates are approximate:
No.1 was Solisti Filarmonici Italiani (2010) (CPO)  Period instruments, gut strings etc.
No.2 was Eder Quartet & Kreuzberger Quartet (2001(?) the Eders perhaps better known for their Shostakovich cycle.  This is available very cheaply on the Apex re-issue label, and is (I think) a good, well-recorded, 'modern-style' version of the Octet, easily the fastest tempi of all ten here, but impressive ensemble even so.


No.3 was l'Archibudelli including Anner Bylsma on 2nd Cello (1992) (Sony).  All eight instruments are Strads, according to the CD cover.  Recording good but not great - but still, I like this version very much, especially in the outer movements where all the strands are very clearly delineated, maybe due to tempi on the slow side.


No.4 was Academy of St Martin-in-the-Fields led by Marriner (1967) (Argo).  Maybe not exactly HIP (the term didn't have much currency back in the '60s) but ASMF were certainly acknowledged as specialists in 'early-ish' (say 18thC) music. In its day this recording was hailed as a big step up from the main alternative, which as I recall was the Vienna Octet (presumably members of the VPO).  Now - it sounds dire.
No.5 was the Australian CO led by Tognetti (on the BIS label, not an earlier recording on Sony) (2012).  HIP-ish.  This fine recording has been my own go-to for the last few years.  Now joined in my collection by No.3 and possibly by No.10


No.6 was Ensemble Explorations including Roel Dieltiens on cello (2016(?) (Harmonia Mundi).  Period instruments, etc.
No.7 was Brandis Quartet & Westphal quartet (1992) (DG).  I could be wrong, but I assume these are members of the BPO.  This was chosen as a random representative of the many modern mainstream non-HIP versions.
No.8 was Hausmusik led by Monica Huggett (1989) (EMI)  Period instruments, possibly the first recording of the Octet to use this approach.
No.9 was ASMF (again) this time led by Iona Brown (1978) (Philips)  Reviewers seem divided on whether this or the earlier ASMF version (No.4) is preferable.  This is certainly better recorded.  And ASMF have recorded this at least once more (Chandos, 1989)
No.10 was Eroica Quartet (2011 (?) (Resonus).  Period instruments.  This is far and away the best-recorded of all ten versions presented here, very involving and revealing.  To my ears this performance is quite similar to l'Archibudelli - a bit on the slow side - but the big difference is that here we have the 'original version' (1825) of the Octet, and not the published version which included several revisions by Mendelssohn, which is what we hear in all the other nine recordings here.

The revisions seem to consist mainly of cuts, in the 1st and 2nd movements and to a very small extent also in the 4th.  The cuts probably are improvements, they certainly make the music more concentrated and propulsive.  However there's not much wrong with the extra bits either.  Some feel the Octet shows a strong Beethoven influence, I don't hear that at all myself (I probably wouldn't like the music if it reminded me of Beethoven) but this original 1825 version maybe does show more of that influence.
« Last Edit: October 11, 2017, 08:21:39 AM by aukhawk »

Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #11 on: October 10, 2017, 06:43:22 AM »
Very interesting. I will be looking for these and to compare against the version I have (which is the Nash Ensemble). Nash are usually quite good, so I imagine it will be a good comparison.

Offenbach gets a raw deal in recordings considering his talent! For a discussion of this outstanding composer too little recorded: http://www.good-music-guide.com/community/index.php/topic,5572.

Offline Jeffrey Smith

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #12 on: October 10, 2017, 04:55:38 PM »
I listened but couldn't come to any decisions....
I have Hausmusik and L'Archibudelli, but none of the others.

My favorite is the one done by the Emerson String Quartet, together with the Emerson String Quartet, included in their set of Mendelssohn's complete music for string quartet.  Recording it involved a complex taping and overdubbing process.

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #13 on: October 11, 2017, 08:33:10 AM »
Tsk tsk!  ;)  That reminds me, I listened to the Eder recording again yesterday, and was disturbed by quite a few clumsy edits.  Their fast tempi apparently not easily sustainable.  Yes I considered including the Emersons (haven't heard that one) but they got crowded out, sorry.

Having received l'Archibudelli (used CD) in the post today, I can add what I had overlooked before, that the grouping includes Anner Bylsma on (2nd) cello.  Also the booklet rather archly claims a higher Strad-to-inhabitants ratio in Washington than in any other city  8)

Offline Jo498

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #14 on: October 11, 2017, 10:58:14 AM »
I did not participate but I am puzzled that L'archibudelli is described as "rather slow". Among the ca. 4 recordings I have (Archibudelli, Hausmusik, Smetana/Janacek, Heifetz et al. and probably another one) it is among the fastest and most energetic. A favorite and the Gade filler is a welcome rarity.
Struck by the sounds before the sun,
I knew the night had gone.
The morning breeze like a bugle blew
Against the drums of dawn.
(Bob Dylan)

Offline aukhawk

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Re: Mini-blind comparison: Mendelssohn Octet
« Reply #15 on: October 12, 2017, 07:05:12 AM »
Perhaps I was subconsciously basing my assessment on the 3rd movement as presented here, and (wrongly) extending that to the whole Octet.   On duration (which I know doesn't tell the whole story) l'Archibudelli are joint-slowest in this movement (tied with Ensemble Explorations), taking 40 seconds longer than the Eder quartet who were the quickest by a margin.
But yes - you're right - in the Finale for example, l'Archibudelli are the quickest of all ten.

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