ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn: String Quartets Nos 2, 3 & 6
WORKS: String Quartets Nos 2, 3 & 6
PERFORMER: Artemis Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 0825646366903
It is a truth universally acknowledged that much of the charm and power of Mendelssohn’s music stems from its combination of Classical and Romantic. But quite what the dosages should be remains an open question. The Artemis Quartet come down decidedly on the Romantic side, I would even say the operatic one. Support for this approach could be found not only from the brief passage for first violin in the third movement of Op. 44 No. 1, clearly a recitative if unmarked as such, as well as from the marked recitative passage in the last movement of Op. 13, preceded by the instruction ‘a piacere quasi una fantasia’. Or do these markings suggest that elsewhere strict tempo should be observed?
In keeping with the ensemble’s Romantic approach, contrasts of dynamics are extreme. Only once, in a particularly dense passage of counterpoint in the second movement of Op. 13, did I feel I was being hectored. But at the other end of the scale, some of the pianissimos are so quiet as to take them ‘out of the frame’ of their surroundings. Technically, the playing is superb throughout, with the two violins well matched for tone, and inner parts duly allowed their share of the limelight. Understandably, the players are at their best in Op. 80, giving vent to Mendelssohn’s sorrow and rage at the death of his sister Fanny; but perhaps the most moving moment is the end of the third movement, where the first violin simply runs out of energy.