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CD Feature/ Daniel Hope: "Mendelssohn"

img  Tobias

Do you need to have read Daniel Hope’s autobiography, “Familienstücke”, to be able to understand his approach to this recording of Mendelssohn’s possibly most famous works? It certainly helps.

In “Familienstücke”, after all, Hope tells us how he got to hear the composer’s “Violin Concerto” for the first time as a little boy. Pinchas Zukerman was the soloist and in the world of the five-year old, his presence fills the entire room. Zukerman lays his hand companionably on the shoulder of one of his colleagues, smiles at the female violist, chats with the concertmaster and then, all of a sudden and completely out of the blue, blows the hall away.

Now, almost thirty years after this event, both private and seminal, Daniel Hope compares the opening bars of the Concerto to jumping into hot water. He is right – “the Mendelssohn” leaves no time for reflection, for straightening your tie or for acclimation. In these first bars, one might say, the performer decides about success and failure and about a whirlwind of emotions or a lukewarm ingle.

Here, on the recording at hand, everyone is spot-on right from the start: The strings pulsate passionately, three sonorous bass notes lay down a stepping stone and then Hope jumps in. First volatile and hurt, then lyrical and sweet, his tone goes from subdued pain to an existential outcry. 

This again corresponds to a moment portrayed in “Familienstücke” – namely, when one of his teachers showed him how you could play the same tone in five different ways and how Hope desperately wanted to be able to repeat the trick himself. On his “Mendelssohn”, it is easy to see that he has not only mastered this on a purely technical level, but that he sees a meaning where others only see notes. It’s everywhere: In his three-minute long build-up from silence to a maddening, thundering climax in the final stages of the first movement, in the softness and self-forgotten dreaminess of the second part as well as in the light-hearted resolution of the closing “Allegretto”. 

His “Octet” is of a similar stature. The piece also starts instantly, taking off on the wings of its bittersweetly rolling main motive – and returns to it again and again over the course of its duration. Two realisations seem to be at the fore of Daniel Hope’s interpretation: He has recognised that Mendelssohn has tapped the full potential of the instrumentation. His “Octet” is not just an intimate chambermusical work but asks for a rich, almost orchestral sound to blossom. And secondly, that there is an implicit concept behind the piece and it is called “momentum”.

Mendelssohn keeps returning to the same themes, rearranging them continously, parsing them in nanoseconds and passing them through the chain of strings like a basketball with the Harlem Globetrotters. It could sound like stop and go, but with Hope and the tightly glued Coe Soloists, it turns into something which would have Philip Glass jumping for joy. Especially the last movement forges ahead with undeniable rhythm and an undulating groove.

The interpretation offers listeners enough joy on its own to justify yet another recording. Historically-minded listeners will however also be delighted at the fact that Daniel Hope has chosen for the original versions of both pieces, turning this into a collection of two world premieres at once.

As he pointed out in his book, though, this should not be considered as a selling point for his CD nor as a contribution to the debate on original practise. Instead, his approach to a work always searches for the full picture and for completion. Mendelssohn’s Octet was changed again and again over a period of eight years. Could it not be revealing, Hope asks, to go back to the source to find hints at the meaning of the finished version? This album certainly has some convincing arguments to back this idea up.

After going as far from home as possible with “East meets West” (a trip into Indian music), Daniel Hope has now taken a journey into his most intimate spaces. Performing Mendelssohn is a matter of the heart to him and these pieces rank among his personal favourites. Of course, it may be benefitial to read about his thoughts on the subject first-hand. But noone needs a booklet or a book to be blown away by this CD.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Daniel Hope
Homepage: Deutsche Grammophon

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