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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett


Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
String Quartet in E flat major, Opus 12
String Quartet in A minor, Opus 13
Leipzig String Quartet
Rec 22-25 May 2000, Rathaus, Markleeburg
MDG 307 1055-2 [54.10]

 

 

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Mendelssohn, like all great composers (and he is undeniably a 'great' composer), has his own special characteristics and personality. Among these are his extraordinary technical facility and the maturity of style and expression which he achieved so young, For both these quartets were written before 1830; that is, before the composer's twenty-first birthday. Yet they are works of great maturity, marrying his innate genius with the strong influence of Beethoven, whose death in 1827 he genuinely mourned. The cogently argued construction of these two quartets represents a clear act of homage.

The Leipzig Quartet here embark upon a Mendelssohn odyssey, for this is the first volume in a complete survey. The signs are certainly encouraging, as perhaps they should be from former members of the Gewandhaus Orchestra, which Mendelssohn himself conducted with such distinction.

Although the sense of ensemble remains strong, both these works give ample opportunities for the individual players to make their mark. Inevitably the performances demand comparison with those so recently issued on ASV by the Vellinger Quartet, and in truth there is little to choose between the two ensembles. Certainly clarity of texture is a higher priority in the present performance, perhaps because the MDG recording is closer and sharper in focus than that provided by ASV. There is room for each approach, however, and the more blended sound of ASV-Vellinger has abundant beauties and felicities, even if the Leipzig Quartet score when it comes to points of detail, with the virtuosity of individual players allocated a higher priority in the recorded balance. Swings and roundabouts, then.

On a couple of points ASV triumphs hands down, however. It seems wholly illogical for the MDG disc to feature Opus 13 first on the programme and Opus 12 second. Perhaps some nice point or other was being made, but for the ordinary mortal it makes no sense. And with tempi and repeats policies essentially much the same, ASV does offer an attractive additional item, the E flat Fugue, Opus 81 No. 4.

Terry Barfoot


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