Fanny Mendelssohn, Mayer, Lombardini Sirmen

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COMPOSERS: Fanny Mendelssohn,Lombardini Sirmen,Mayer
LABELS: CPO
WORKS: String Quartet in E flat
PERFORMER: Erato Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 999 679-2

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Of the trio of women composers featured here, only Emilie Mayer (1812-83) was able to devote herself more or less full-time to composition.

If her sole published Quartet, with its shades of Beethoven as filtered through Mendelssohn, is not specially individual, it’s euphonious and idiomatically written, with a vein of elegant pathos in the opening movement, a scherzo à la Midsummer Night’s Dream and an agitated finale shot through with flashes of stronger rhetoric.

Fanny Mendelssohn had an almost symbiotic composing relationship with brother Felix – though for all his encouragement, he opposed her attempts to publish her works and encroach on an all-male preserve. Her E flat Quartet of 1834 owes something to Felix’s Op. 12 in the same key; but Fanny has a gently eloquent voice of her own, above all in the melancholy, fantasia-like opening Adagio and the colourfully scored scherzo.

It is the earliest of these three composers, the Venetian-born Maddalena Lombardini Sirmen (1745-1818), who led the most flamboyant life, touring Europe as a virtuoso violinist and then reinventing herself as an operatic prima donna. She was evidently a talented composer, too; and the two miniature quartets here have a grace and fluent Italianate lyricism that recalls her compatriot Boccherini.

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The Erato Quartet plays throughout with skill and spirit, and a sensitive feeling for the scale and reach of these highly agreeable works. Richard Wigmore