WORKS: String Quartet in D, Op. 44/1; Octet in E flat
PERFORMER: Guarneri String Quartet,Orion String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: Z 6714
In a note accompanying the first edition of his miraculously youthful Octet, Mendelssohn explained that he wanted the music played ‘in symphonic style’, with dynamic contrasts emphasised more strongly than usual. The Guarneri and Orion Quartets take the composer’s advice very much to heart: their fortissimos pack considerable punch, and they conjure up a fine atmosphere of hushed mystery in such moments as the subdued central development of the opening movement. One or two lapses of ensemble in the slow movement do not seriously detract from the success of the performance as a whole, though in the famous scherzo, inspired by a quatrain from the ‘Walpurgis Night Dream’ intermezzo of Goethe’s Faust, the players do not achieve quite the same lightness of touch that the Academy of St Martins Chamber Ensemble manages to bring to the music.
Much less well known than the Octet are the Op. 44 string quartets, dedicated to the Crown Prince of Sweden. The middle work of the triptych, in Mendelssohn’s characteristic E minor, gets an occasional outing, but the composer’s own favourite – ‘more fiery and more grateful for the players’, as he put it – was the D major work recorded here. The work has long been a favourite of the Guarneri Quartet, too, and it gives a splendidly energetic account of its exuberant outer movements. More memorable than those, however, are the intimate middle movements, the first of them a nostalgic and exquisite minuet. Altogether, a fine disc, though the Academy Chamber Ensemble’s performance of the Octet still stands up very well. Misha Donat