Mendelssohn: String Quartet in E flat, Op. 44/3; Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Decca
WORKS: String Quartet in E flat, Op. 44/3; Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81
PERFORMER: Ysaÿe Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 452 049-2
This recording completes the Ysaÿe Quartet’s survey of Mendelssohn’s mature string quartets – still a sadly undervalued area of the repertoire. Op. 44/3 is perhaps the least familiar among them. If the unrelenting energy of its finale can sound somewhat counterproductive, the two middle movements are among Mendelssohn’s most original creations: a characteristically gossamer-textured scherzo, and an Adagio full of yearning dissonances.

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Op. 81 is not a bona fide string quartet, but a posthumously published collection of pieces written at various times. Only two of them actually belong together: a set of variations and a scherzo, probably intended as the middle movements of a quartet. The remaining pieces are both contrapuntal – a rather unidiomatically scored neo-Baroque ‘Capriccio’, and a simple, austere fugue.

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The Ysaÿe Quartet plays this music fluently, and with considerable panache. Only in the opening movement of the Op. 44 quartet could its fortissimo have done with more weight. The booklet makes much of the recording location – a French abbey of 12th-century origin – but the sound itself is uningratiatingly hard and lacking in bloom. Misha Donat