Mendelssohn: String Quartets Nos. 1, 2 & 6

Tippett Quartet (Somm)

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Mendelssohn String Quartet No. 1 in E flat, Op. 12; No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13; No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80
Tippett Quartet
Somm SOMMCD0182 79:36 mins

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This CD encompasses, in reverse order of composition, the three most striking of Mendelssohn’s six published string quartets: the stormy, distraught F minor, composed in the wake of his beloved sister Fanny’s sudden death and completed just two months before his own; the elegantly exuberant and formally innovative E flat major, written at 20; and the urgently inventive and passionate A minor, composed at just 18. Yet the Tippett Quartet tends to approach these three hugely contrasting scores in much the same way.

These are essentially ‘old fashioned’ interpretations: moderate in choice of tempos and range of dynamics, full-toned, warm and blended in textures and inflected with a generous degree of vibrato throughout. This works best in the slow movements: that of the A minor Quartet with its chromatic central fugato is especially convincing in its expression and pacing, suggesting a maturity far beyond Mendelssohn’s tender years. Yet that very ‘maturity’ tends to neutralise the more incisively youthful details of the early quartets, or indeed, the febrile intensity of the F minor – qualities that require a greater exactitude and variety of attack, tone and vibrato, including non-vibrato. And, though quite close-miked, the recording has a reverberant background so that details of Mendelssohn’s ever- resourceful inner part-writing are occasionally blurred. It is possible that the Tippett Quartet approach will better suit – if they are planning to record them – Mendelssohn’s three middle period quartets Op. 44: works no less masterly, but perhaps more equable in style.

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Bayan Northcott