String Quartets, Vol. 2: No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13; No. 3 in D, Op. 44/1; No. 4 in E minor, Op. 44/2
Doric String Quartet
Chandos CHAN 20257-2 89:22 mins (2 discs)
The works which bookend Mendelssohn’s numbered quartets are each related to a death – the A minor (the first he wrote, notwithstanding its being assigned ‘No. 2’ on publication) obliquely to Beethoven’s, and the F minor more directly to that of his sister Fanny. There’s a sense of violent loss in their first movements, and the Doric convey that even more effectively in the earlier quartet than they did in the F minor four years ago. The way the music erupts after the warmth of the major-key introduction comes with an electric charge, and tension is maintained with a searing sense of momentum. At 18, Mendelssohn had the experimental confidence of youth, and the three remaining movements all take unexpected turns of direction in pacing and melodic development, projected here with ease and maturity.
Composed ten years later, the Op. 44 quartets display a more conservative cast of mind, with less formal experimentation, but no lack of melodic invention and proliferation. Both have long first movements – genial in the D major, more plangent and yearning in the E minor – and it’s a measure of the performances that they capture these moods with precision and a wealth of detail in the colouring and phrasing of individual lines. This never detracts from the unity of purpose in the playing; and the charm of the second movements – a minuet and a fleet scherzo respectively – plays off against the song-without-words feel of the subsequent andantes and the energy of the final prestos. All in splendid Chandos sound: a winner.