LABELS: ASV Quicksilva
WORKS: String Quartet in E flat, Op. 12; String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13; Fugue in E flat, Op. 81/4
PERFORMER: Vellinger String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CD QS 6236
Mendelssohn’s string quartets, particularly the early ones, aren’t widely represented on disc, and of those heard here, the A minor Quartet, Op. 13, is much the best known. Dating from 1827, the work is richly varied in mood and content, having a mature concentration and technical accomplishment which seem extraordinary from a youth of 18. The Vellingers give an urgently motoric and compelling account, empowered by brisk tempi and alert rhythmic control. First violinist Stephanie Gonley’s breathlessly febrile handling of the recitative-like preamble to the stormy finale is highly effective. So is the agitated fugato that unexpectedly invades the serene Adagio, dramatically announced by the viola. Both passages underline the power and pathos realised in this account.
The Vellinger is less satisfying in the E flat Quartet. Its more relaxed, bucolic view misses the chance to probe hidden tensions which more considered performances often evince. That’s where the Melos Quartet’s DG version scores highly, its impulsive spontaneity proving more engrossing. The Melos has a darker, denser timbre; the Vellinger’s lighter, more transparent sonority suits the mercurial finale well, though the vehement C minor incursion part way through seems much less threatening.
Best of all is the Mosaïques Quartet Auvidis Astrée 1997 full-price accounts of these works. They’re eloquently played and superbly recorded benchmark recommendations, but if you’re on a budget, the Vellinger coupling instantly supersedes the Aurora Quartet’s 1993 Naxos versions. For highly individual, charismatic and vividly engineered readings that will withstand repeated and detailed listening, choose the Mosaïques Quartet. Michael Jameson