Mendelssohn: String Quintet No. 1; String Quintet No. 2

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
WORKS: String Quintet No. 1; String Quintet No. 2
PERFORMER: Mendelssohn String Quartet; Robert Mann (viola)
Aside from alpine masterpieces like Schubert’s C major Quintet, the string quintet repertoire is dreadfully neglected. And yet there are so many treasures, especially among quintets with second viola: three by Mozart, two by Brahms and Fauré, one each by Bruckner and Beethoven (when did you last see Beethoven’s Op. 29 on a concert programme?) and these two delightful works by Mendelssohn. Op. 18 in A was written when Mendelssohn was 17, and it has something of the youthful vigour and imaginative brilliance of the nearly contemporary Octet, Midsummer Night’s Dream Overture and A minor String Quartet, though the mood is generally more easygoing. The B flat major Quintet, Op. 87, written near the end of Mendelssohn’s short but richly filled life, is more impetuous (so much for the idea that the older Mendelssohn is invariably tamer than the teenage genius). The Beethoven-inspired passion and drama of the slow movement will surprise anyone who expects cosy parlour sentimentality – old ideas about Mendelssohn do tend to die hard. If you feel the urge to explore, this disc is all you need – performances of great intelligence, freshness and feeling, in near-ideal recordings. Strongly recommended. Stephen Johnson