Mendelssohn: Complete String Quartets

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Arte Nova
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelssohn Complete String Quartets
WORKS: Complete String Quartets
PERFORMER: Henschel Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: 82876 64009 2
The first two quartets of Mendelssohn’s early maturity, Op. 13 and Op. 12, are every bit as miraculous as the famous Octet that preceded them. Both are steeped in late Beethoven, but they’re highly original works in their own right, with a wholly individual approach to cyclic form. Nor could any 19th-century quartet composer match Mendelssohn’s unstrained mastery of the medium. If his later quartets aren’t quite on the same sustained level, they are full of strikingly beautiful ideas: the graceful minuet second movement of the D major Op. 44 No. 1, for instance, and the achingly tender Andante that follows it; the passionately urgent opening movement of the middle work in the Op. 44 triptych, and its glittering scherzo second movement; or the tragically intense late F minor Op. 80.

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The Henschel Quartet – two brothers and a sister, plus a cellist friend – give bold, well-shaped accounts, with the Op. 44 Quartets particularly impressive. The three discs even find room for a precocious, but otherwise unremarkable, quartet from Mendelssohn’s boyhood – missing from the recording by the Henschels’ chief rival, the Leipzig Quartet. Just occasionally the Henschel players can be a little over-cautious: the charming ‘Canzonetta’ second movement of Op. 12 is rather weighed down by accents, and the Intermezzo of Op. 13 also sounds a shade laboured. The greater experience of the Leipzig group shows in the warmth of their sound and he transparency of textures. But the differences between the two versions are certainly marginal, and this inexpensive newcomer can confidently be recommended.