Mendelssohn - Complete Music for Strings Vol.3
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Cat No: AUDITE92658
Number of Discs: 1
Release Date: 25th November 2013
WorksOctet in E flat major, op.20
Pieces (4) for String Quartet, op.81
Quartetto di Cremona
Felix Mendelssohn did not write his six mature string quartets continually, but instead at particular pivotal points in his life and compositional career. In his youth, studying Bach and Beethoven proved to be fruitful, and later in life he was inspired by the exceptional violinist Ferdinand David to write his three Quartets Op.44, between 1837 and 1839 (represented on this SACD by the final work in E flat major). They document the mature, formally assured Mendelssohn: brilliantly composed (particularly for David’s violin), full of colour and formal attractions, romantic in their conduct.
After completing his Quartet Op.80 (contained in the second volume of the complete recording), Mendelssohn had not much time left to revisit and renew the string quartet. Two single surviving movements – a tenderly transfigured, but also irascible, Andante with five variations and a whispering Scherzo – were integrated into Op.81 after Mendelssohn’s death. To Mendelssohn admirers, this Scherzo is faintly reminiscent of the Scherzo in the Octet Op.20 with which the sixteen-year-old Felix, in a coup de main, created a new genre: “symphonic” chamber music where all “pianos and fortes need to be very precise and clearly separated and more distinctly emphasised than it is normally the case with pieces of this genre”.
The jubilant opening of the octet, the romance-like Andante, the elastic, elf-like Scherzo and the rapid fugal finale – every movement is proof of the resourcefulness and the youthful genius of this “lovely episode in German music”, as Friedrich Nietzsche once referred to the composer Mendelssohn.
1String Quartet no.5 - Allegro Vivace
2String Quartet no.5 - Scherzo
3String Quartet no.5 - Adagio non troppo
4String Quartet no.5 - Molto allegro con fuoco
5Andante sostenuto and Variations in E, op.81/1
6Scherzo in A minor, op.81/2
7Octet - Allegro moderato ma con fuoco
8Octet - Andante
9Octet - Scherzo
10Octet - Presto
This music could hardly find more impassioned or dedicated advocates than the Mandelring Quartet. Their tone is superbly homogeneous but characterful, with a taut muscularity that brings out all the dynamism of these works, and enough focused tenderness for the more reflective movements. Most importantly, they pitch the tone of the performances just right to achieve an ideal balance between late Classicism and latent Romanticism.
In the first movement of the E flat Quartet, the individual lines are brilliantly delineated as the energetic opening motif saturates the textures, its dynamism retained whether in loud or soft passagework. The migration of the closing idea from the second subject to the cello’s high register in the development is beautifully done. The Scherzo second movement is similarly animated, pointed and mysteriously elfin yet unhurried, the closing daemonic unison and pizzicato pay-off deftly handled. The slow movement, a not entirely untroubled oasis of calm marked Adagio non troppo, is taken flowingly, maximising the expressivity of its central episode, while the finale scurries along buoyantly – a real tour de force, its violin solos (originally intended for the youthful Ferdinand David) brilliantly negotiated by the Mandelrings’ leader, Sebastian Schmidt. Throughout the performance, they tread a skilful path between ebullience and poise as they explore this early Romantic treasure.
The two posthumously-published movements are handled with a similar combination of sensitivity, virtuosity and vivacity, amounting to much more than mere interludes or makeweights. The Scherzo in particular has undeniable and delightful echoes of the equivalent movement in Mendelssohn’s music for A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and fades away deliciously at the end.
For the great Octet, the Mandelring Quartet are joined by their colleagues in the Quartetto di Cremona. This is a superb performance, the two ensembles melding effortlessly for a performance that perfectly marries youthful vigour and structural integrity. Details are lovingly teased out without ever resorting to exaggerated point-making, the textures revelled in, and dynamics fastidiously and tellingly observed, as are the repeats. It’s a measure of the performers’ musicality throughout this disc that the Octet, which might so easily have overshadowed the other pieces, in the event emerges as the inevitable cumulation of the quartet works (even though it’s chronologically much earlier!).
The recordings are excellent, and there’s a lengthy and thoroughly informative note by Michael Struck-Schloen. It’s a shame that details of the recording venue and a list of the two ensembles’ personnel aren’t included, but this does nothing to detract from the disc’s considerable musical attractions. For Mendelssohnians everywhere, this is a real treat.
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