Mendelssohn: Complete Chamber Music for Strings Vol. 2 - Mandelring Quartett
Classical - Chamber
String Quartets in D major (Op. 44 No. 1), in E minor (Op. 44 No. 2) & in F minor (Op. 80)
The second volume of "Mendelssohn - Complete Chamber Music for Strings" (four SACDs in total) is dedicated to compositions from the last third of the composer's life. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy did not compose his six mature string quartets continuously, but at certain turning points in his musical life and biography. Whilst in his youth, the study of Bach and Beethoven was of major importance; later on his encounter with the exceptional violinist Ferdinand David inspired him, between 1837 and 1839, to compose his three Quartets Op. 44 (numbers 1 & 2 on this SACD). They document the mature, formally confident Mendelssohn summing up his instrumental œuvre: virtuoso composition (especially for David's violin playing), full of colours and formal stimuli, and of romantic attitude.
Just under a decade later, a completely different Mendelssohn appears in the territory of the string quartet, historically dominated by the mature works of Beethoven. Mendelssohn's Quartet in F minor, Op. 80, seems to be more of an outcry than a cultivated piece of chamber music, triggered by the death of his beloved sister Fanny in May 1847. Mendelssohn, completely devastated by her death, almost lost the ability to compose but mastered the crisis by finding a new tonal language, raw and highly charged, hitherto unknown to him. Tragically, Mendelssohn could not develop this course, for one and a half months after completing his quartet, the 38-year-old suffered a deadly stroke at the beginning of November, 1847.
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Review by John Broggio - December 16, 2012
Stunning. Just stunning.
Right from the off, the Mendelssohn String Quartet No. 3 leaps off the page in one of the most dazzling displays of quartet ensemble I have been privileged to hear. The "Molto allegro vivace" is taken at face value and even at such a speed, the Mandelring's manage to honour the vivace marking; there is much beauty to admire and they deliver a thrillingly wide dynamic range. As with every Mandelring release, the unanimity of approach from the quartet is all too rarely heard and their intonation is beyond criticism. Thanks to the careful musicianship, phrasing in a way that naturally leads the ear from phrase to phrase, the first movement has the inner fire usually associated with the Octet. The listener then is allowed to relax in the Menuetto (marked "Un poco allegretto") and the easy lyricism of the Mandelring's playing with Mendelssohn's sunny music is bound to bring hope to even the most saddened heart. The slow movement is, compared to many of the genre's predecessors, fairly slight - broadly the same duration as the Menuetto. It starts with a soulful melody accompanied by rocking figuration and gentle pizzicato "metronome" beats and as Mendelssohn gradually increases the emotional temperature, so does the passion and intensity of the Mandelring's response (but never mawkishly). The electricity that is suddenly switched back on for the Finale ("Presto con brio") is startling on more than just the first listen - playing like this really ought to carry a health warning! In the calmer moments the Mandelring find just the right balance between repose and forward momentum so that these passages feel at one with the bravura episodes.
There is a noticeable change of mood for the remainder of the disc as the music inhabits the minor keys. The Mandelring players replace the brilliance with a more introverted seriousness that befits the new mood. In the second subjects, where the mood mellows, the Mandelrings again allow their music to reflect the music in a seemingly natural manner - the hardest of all interpretative tricks to pull off. In both quartets, the balance between the melodic lines and the turbulence of the accompaniment is superbly done - they complement each other so that when the accompaniment steps to the fore it does so without the ear registering for a good bar or two! The E minor quartet (No. 4) has a Scherzo that fizzes in these hands exactly like the great Octet - it is like hearing sparks fly from an anvil such is the brilliance and white heat of the playing. The Andante of the E minor is played with a winning charm and disarming ease that allows the tenderness of Mendelssohn's music to be appreciated without ego's interfering - a delight from beginning to end. The return of the agitation in the Finale is somewhat of an abrupt event, so relaxing is the music and music making, it rather shatters ones reveries but what a way to do it!
The opening movement of the F minor quartet (No. 6) combines the energy of No. 3 with the unsettled feeling of No. 4 - throughout, the Mandelring's play with an easy authority: the opening "pinging" accompaniment is extraordinarily well integrated into the succeeding textures as they die away and provide a driving force to the movement. Once again, the Mandelring's employ a wonderfully wide dynamic range that allows the melodic lines to be shaped and move the drama (or halt it) as Mendelssohn's will dictates and even though the pulse stays the same, they convince the ear that they give significant rubato - a very hard trick to pull off! Unlike the other quartets, the Scherzo in all but name is no respite here but more akin to Sturm und Drang and the Mandelring's vivid projection of the syncopated accompaniment lends a great nervous energy to proceedings. Fortunately, Mendelssohn provides a real Adagio (though still relatively brief) which allows the Mandelring players to roll out a lyrical and sustained legato; very moving and personal playing - no playing to the gallery yet emotionally raw at the same time. The concluding Finale is taking very much "Allegro molto" to thrilling effect by the Mandelring's but it is never sensationalised.
After a recital of such calibre it is wonderful to be able to report that Audite have given the Mandelring's (and us) a recording fully worthy of the playing. All the instruments have a firm, audible location, the parts are always distinguishable and the sound reflects the quartets timbre accurately.
Even by the phenomenally high standards they have set themselves, this Mandelring Quartet disc must count as one of their finest achievements on disc to date.
Copyright © 2012 John Broggio and HRAudio.net