It is always hard to make room for Mendelssohn. What is there to say, after all? He does nearly everything so unsensationally well. He doesn't inflict his problems and neuroses on the listener. Except in the E minor Violin Concerto and a few scherzos, he does not pose the sort of interpretive challenges or gratifications that might make performers swarm over his works. In short, he makes everything sound easy, as for him it may well have been.
Mendelssohn's 12 string symphonies, written when the composer was still in his early adolescence, can seem, in casual performances, elegant trifles. But in more committed hands, they can also seem prodigiously passionate, probing creations, as Concerto Koln, a period-instrument group from Cologne, is proving in this series of Teldec recordings.
The performances, directed by Werner Ehrhardt, are gritty in the fast movements, smooth in the slow ones and everywhere alert. This gem of a series is far superior to the complete set of the string symphonies by Roy Goodman and the Hanover Band, also on period instruments.--J.R. Oestreich