Fanny Mendelssohn •Felix Mendelssohn
Fanny Mendelssohn: String Quartet in E flat; Felix Mendelssohn: String Quartets – No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13; No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80
Hyperion CDA68330 75:16 mins
Recent decades have rightly seen a growing appreciation of Fanny Mendelssohn’s music. While this String Quartet in E flat (her only example in the genre) isn’t quite in the class of her finest piano works or songs, it makes a strong impression nonetheless, exploring musical territory at an expressive level that’s closer to Schumann’s brand of demonstrative Romanticism than to her brother’s more stylised kind. Unusually for the times, her choice of first movement is a slow Adagio ma non troppo rather than the standard Allegrospecies; and the virtuoso pace of the Scherzo-like Finale is sustained with the skill of a master.
The two Felix Mendelssohn quartets, too, both in minor keys, have an emotional turbulence that’s very different from his more familiar brand of classy poise. In the F minor Quartet – written just before his early death, in response to his sister’s likewise premature end – the Scherzo’s obsessive cross-rhythms and bleak Trio section are particularly striking.
Whether the playing here does true justice to the music is a more open question. The Takács Quartet has sustained an admiring following through its changes of personnel down the years, and their exceptional precision of tuning and ensemble, especially at full-tilt Mendelssohnian pace, remains as impressive as ever. But there is also an insistent dryness to the collective sound (from the cellist especially) for which the group’s stylistic finesse doesn’t compensate, and which often seems to thwart the music’s expressive world from coming across as it keeps trying to.