Mendelssohn: String Quartets, Vol. 1
E minor is the Mendelssohnian key par excellence – the key of the famous Violin Concerto and the opening string music in the Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture. Two of the pieces on this first disc in the Maggini Quartet’s Mendelssohn cycle are also in E minor: the middle work in the quartet triptych Op. 44, and the fine ‘Capriccio’ (actually more akin to a prelude and fugue) from a set of miscellaneous string quartet pieces posthumously published as Mendelssohn’s Op. 81. The Op. 44 Quartet, in particular, is imbued with that sense of subdued excitement that is so characteristic of Mendelssohn’s E minor music. It’s something that the Maggini Quartet, for all the obvious commitment of its playing, doesn’t always capture, though it has to be said that the atmosphere of the music-making isn’t helped by the strident quality of the recorded sound.
The F minor Quartet Op. 80 was Mendelssohn’s cry of despair at the sudden death of his sister Fanny. Just a few weeks after completing it, Mendelssohn himself was dead at the age of 38. The Maggini players are admirable in the highly-charged Scherzo, and they give a deeply-felt account of the slow movement, but their finale is disappointingly laid-back: this is music that needs to unfold at a much higher voltage. The Leipzig Quartet (MDG) bring a good deal more urgency and intensity to the piece, and benefit from a warmer recorded sound.