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(1809 - 1847)
String Quartet No 2 in A Minor. Op13 [30.27]
String Quintet No 2 in B Flat Major. Op 87 [29.05]
String Quintet No 1 in A Major. Op 18 [31.17]
Octet in E Flat Major. Op 20 [31.48]
Hausmusik London
Monica Huggett, Pavlo Beznosiuk, Paull Boucher, Jolianne von Einem (violins)
Roger Chase, Simon Whistler (violas)
Richard Lester, Anthony Pleeth, Sebastian Comberti (cellos)
Recorded St.Martin's Church, East Woodhay, Berkshire, June 1993 (CD1).
Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, University of York. April 1989 (CD2). DDD
Virgin veritas VBD 5 61809 2 [123.17]   Bargain Price
 Amazon UK 

That eminent Nineteenth Century Music critic, Queen Victoria, said of Mendelssohn - "A wonderful genius..... so pleasing and amiable". A bit OTT at the beginning but the second compliment I can agree with wholeheartedly. (For the benefit of our readers from the Colonies and the US - OTT means "over the top").

Certainly this double disc re-release by Virgin will endear itself to many who hear it, with four chamber works by a popular composer - one of them a well-known piece and three that deserve to be better-known. The well-known work is the delicious Octet, a near-miraculous work from a boy of 16, here given a dazzling performance by an ensemble at the top of its form. The balance is well nigh perfect and all the strands are clear in a splendid recording. Virtuosic playing - on period instruments - at the service of the music with lightness of touch, shading, togetherness of tone - an instance of how all top chamber playing ought to be. The long opening Allegro with its extended singing phrases, the famous Scherzo, and the closing Presto played wickedly fast.

The three other works show how varied a talent the composer had. The A Minor Quartet, from 1827 is an intense work from a still precociously young man. It shows Beethovian influences (how strange if it didn't) and along with Mendelssohn's melodic gifts ( a delightful Intermezzo with prominent first violin leading to a section reminiscent of Midsummer Night's Dream) it has serious passages. It deserves to be heard more often.

The two Quintets are again pieces that deserve more. The early A Major (1827) was written as a three movement work, then following the death of a close friend Mendelssohn added a tribute in the form of an Intermezzo slow passage. The Second Quintet dates from 1845 and has been dogged by the view that the spark had left the composer and that he was by then struggling to recover the 'lost' creative powers. A fair hearing will show that this opinion is perhaps a little superficial. The work bubbles along in its outer movements while the contrapuntal detail in the Andante is precise and affectionate, and the playing in the Adagio captures the depths.

An excellent double disc of period instrument performance that can be highly recommended. Try not to miss this one.


Harry Downey


Harry Downey

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