Mendelssohn: String Quartets, Opp. 13 & 80; Four Pieces, Op. 81

COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn
WORKS: String Quartets, Opp. 13 & 80; Four Pieces, Op. 81
PERFORMER: Elias Quartet
Mendelssohn was just 18 when he composed his first published quartet, Op. 13. It’s tinged with memories of late Beethoven, but at the same time it’s a perfectly achieved and highly original piece. At the other end of Mendelssohn’s life came the extraordinarily dark-hued F minor Quartet Op. 80 – a cry of grief at the loss of his sister Fanny. A few months after he composed it, Mendelssohn was himself dead, at the age of only 38. In the same year he had composed a pair of string quartet movements that were published posthumously together with two others written at various times, and the Elias Quartet’s debut disc also includes all four pieces. The Quartet’s leader, Sara Bittloch, provides persuasive advocacy for all this music in her booklet notes, and it’s clear from the performances that these young players feel passionately about it. Most successful, perhaps, are the intimate Fugue Op. 81 No. 1, and the admirably light and transparent account of the Scherzo from the same set. Elsewhere, the performers have all the right ideas about the music, though their intentions aren’t always matched by the execution itself. In particular, there’s some rather rough playing particularly in the dramatic recitative at the start of the finale of Op. 13, and the gruff sound is exacerbated by a dry and close recording. In short, there’s much promise in this recording, but the more seasoned Leipzig Quartet offers playing of greater polish without any sacrifice in intensity. Misha Donat