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  Founder: Len Mullenger
Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
String Quartet in E flat major, Opus 12
String Quartet in A minor, Opus 13
Fugue in E flat major, Opus 81 No. 4

Vellinger String Quartet
Rec 2-3 March 1999, St George's Brandon Hill, Bristol
ASV CD QS 6236 [60.48]


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The numbering of Mendelssohn's compositions is often misleading. For example, the present Quartet in A minor is listed as his Opus 13, but it was composed in 1827, some two years before the quartet known as Opus 12. At the time he wrote these pieces, the teenage composer had recently experienced the disappointment of his opera The Wedding of Camacho failing, and, moreover, he had been saddened to learn of the death of Beethoven, a figure whom he revered. In this context it is no wonder, then, that the music has a certain bitter-sweet quality, in keeping with Mendelssohn's own need for consolation.

In both quartets the music has a clear debt to Beethoven, and this of course strengthens both the form and the expressive nature of the music. There are strong grounds for taking the view that the best of Mendelssohn is to be found in the chamber music, and anyone wanting to put this contention to the proof could do no better than investigate this splendid disc, containing performances of both skill and understanding.

Of the two, the A minor Quartet is perhaps the finer, though both show the composer at the height of his powers. And what powers they are, for the young Mendelssohn remains the world's greatest ever creative prodigy, surpassing even Mozart. In both performances the Vellingers play immaculately, but also with great expressive freedom. The attention to detail in matters of dynamic nuance brings much reward too: this is quartet playing of the highest order.

Here Mendelssohn scores on every count. The melodic invention is inspired, but the formal command is very strong and the overall vision is hugely imaginative. Nowhere is this more so than in the final phase of the Opus 13 Quartet, when the music moves into unexpected regions, in which the highest praise is to confirm that the vision of the performance matches that of the music. With a generous and imaginative 'encore' in the form of the surprisingly lyrical Fugue in E flat, this is a disc to treasure.

Terry Barfoot

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