WORKS: String Quartet in E flat, Op. 12; String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13
PERFORMER: Mosaïques Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: E 8622
Mendelssohn’s early quartets are among the greatest achievements in the chamber music repertoire in the post-Beethoven period. In an age which tended towards respectful incomprehension of Beethoven’s late string quartets, there is the extraordinary spectacle of the young Mendelssohn, fearlessly seizing the gauntlet thrown down by the older composer, writing music that builds on his most controversial ideas. The results are at their most astonishing in the A minor Quartet, the perfect Romantic response to Beethoven in an age that preferred to rework earlier examples. The slightly later E flat major Quartet, though unfailingly enjoyable, along with much of the rest of the 19th century, finds a model in middle-period Beethoven.
The Mosaïques Quartet responds superbly to this repertoire. It plays on historical instruments, but this in no way inhibits its treatment of the music. There is slightly more tremulousness in some of the quieter first violin phrases than is ideal, but the compensation is a commanding wealth of solo detail from all players. Above all, their collective richness of tone is balanced by a complete lack of sentimentality; no gesture is exaggerated and there is a clear understanding of the intellectual direction. The Cherubini Quartet’s passionate advocacy of these two works in its complete recording of Mendelssohn’s quartets is certainly still a sure-fire recommendation, but the Mosaïques Quartet’s performances, with their blend of reflectiveness and eloquence, are ones to which I will happily and frequently return. Jan Smaczny