Octet Op. 20; Variations and Scherzo op. 81 (Cleveland and Tokyo Quartets)
The young Mendelssohn drew and painted in music, as well as in pencil and watercolour. He soon outgrew the need for musical models, but he always craved poetic subjects. Thus the Lieder ohne Worte might be interpreted literally as songs from which the words have been omitted, while some of the Octet themes suggest actual word-setting from the acknowledged Goethe sources. The ClevelandTokyo approach seems more concerned with sound than with symbol. Apart from occasional slight uncertainties of intonation and ensemble the playing is consistently deft and competent, and never without its own lilt and swing. But its general atmosphere of tense and taut concentration is hardly conducive to mood- or scene-painting, and I found the performance as a whole rather unevocative. The Cleveland Quartet however sounds altogether more easy and relaxed in the two 1847 movements of op.81, and as a result the sweetly elegiac melancholy of Mendelssohn's last year, all sighing breeze and yellowing leaf, is quite eloquently conveyed.
The Musical Times, Jan. 1979 (pp. 43) © the estate of eric sams