Mendelssohn: Escher String Quartet

String Quartets Nos 2 & 3; Scherzo in A minor, Op. 81 No. 2; Andante (Tema con Variazioni) in E

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: BIS
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn: Escher String Quartet
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 2 & 3; Scherzo in A minor, Op. 81 No. 2; Andante (Tema con Variazioni) in E
PERFORMER: Escher String Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: BIS 1990 (hybrid CD/SACD)

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The Escher Quartet continues their Mendelssohn collection in the fashion of the initial disc, programming together very different works from various points of their composer’s short life. The A minor Quartet, though numbered two, was his first ‘official’ effort in the genre, written when he was 18 and quoting from his own song Frage (question), while drawing on the influence of his passion for Beethoven’s late quartets. The D major quartet is likewise out of sequence – the last of the Op. 44 set to be written, but placed first in the publication possibly because its composer was so happy with it. As for the Four Pieces Op. 81, each was originally a stand-alone work; they date from disparate years, but were brought together for publication after Mendelssohn’s death. The works nevertheless share Mendelssohn’s unmistakable fizz of nervous energy, magical moments of elfin lightness and mystery and a clear-cut flow that sounds deceptively effortless.

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The Eschers offer eloquent, full-blooded playing, with spacious tempos, earthy rhythms and rich, dug-in sound. Nothing is rushed or skittered over – and this is notably rewarding in music where an over-precious surface can risk missing the point. Mendelssohn wasn’t inspired by Beethoven for nothing. The four players offer a beautiful blend of individuality and accord, and BIS’s famous SACD sound quality lets them gleam and glow. Jessica Duchen