Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 5 in E flat, Op. 44; String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80; Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81

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COMPOSERS: Mendelssohn
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: Mendelsson String Quartet
WORKS: String Quartet No. 5 in E flat, Op. 44; String Quartet No. 3; String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80; Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81
PERFORMER: Eroica Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: HMU 907288
Mendelssohn’s F minor Quartet Op. 80 was his requiem for his sister Fanny, who had died just a few months before he composed it. The piece is like a long drawn-out cry of despair that lets up only for its warmly lyrical slow movement. Just a few weeks after he completed it, Mendelssohn was himself dead – a victim, like Fanny, of a devastating series of strokes.

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Nearly a decade earlier, inspired by the playing of Ferdinand David, for whom he was to compose his famous Violin Concerto, Mendelssohn had written his three quartets Op. 44. The last of the triptych, recorded here, is the least familiar, partly because it’s difficult and not always grateful to play. Its outer movements are rather unremittingly garrulous, but the two middle movements are fine character-pieces – one of them a typically transparent scherzo,

the other a deeply felt song

without words.

The members of the Eroica Quartet have made a special study of 19th-century performance practice, and their warmly romantic approach serves them particularly well in a deeply-felt account of the slow movement of Op. 44 No. 3. In both this piece and the preceding scherzo I actually prefer them to the Leipzig Quartet, whose scherzo is rather sedate, while the Adagio unfolds more like a flowing Andante. However, in the first and last movements the considerably greater energy and momentum of the Leipzig players pays dividends; and they also find more intensity in the F minor work, and greater depth in its slow movement.

All the same, there’s much to enjoy in the Eroica Quartet’s performances. The unconventional seating arrangement, with first violin and cello on the left, takes a bit of getting used to, but the recording itself is first class.

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Misha Donat