Mendelssohn: String Quartet in A, Op. 13; String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44/2; Theme with Variations and Scherzo from Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Chandos
WORKS: String Quartet in A, Op. 13; String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44/2; Theme with Variations and Scherzo from Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81
PERFORMER: Sorrel Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CHAN 9555
Despite the booklet’s claim that Mendelssohn’s development as an idiomatic composer of string quartets came relatively late, he was only 18 when he composed his Quartet, Op. 13 – one of the most beautiful and original of all 19th-century string quartets after Beethoven’s. It evolves within the framework of a tremulously posed question – a musical quotation from a song Mendelssohn had written shortly before: ‘Is it true that you are always waiting for me in the arbour?’ This is music of burning passion and intensity, and it needs to be played with a corresponding sense of urgency. For all its attention to detail, the Sorrel Quartet sounds generally too restrained and polite, and its undercharged performance does Mendelssohn’s youthful impetuosity less than full justice.

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Much the same goes for the later E minor Quartet, whose opening movement is insufficiently agitated, while the sudden changes in dynamic level which characterise the theme of the Scherzo are ignored. More successful is the slow movement, whose atmosphere is beautifully judged, and the two inner movements of an incomplete quartet dating from the last year of Mendelssohn’s life. But the temperature of the disc as a whole remains disappointingly cool. Misha Donat