> Mendelssohn Quintets [KS]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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String Quintets, opus 18 and 87.
Mendelssohn String Quartet
(Miriam Fried, Nicholas Mann, violins; Ulrich Eichenauer, viola; Marcy Rosen, cello) Robert Mann, viola II
Recorded in Sweden, May 2001, DDD
BIS CD 1254 [59í32]


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Felix Mendelssohn was, in my opinion, the truly outstanding melodist of the romantic age. Certainly, that is not to slight Schubert or Schumann, who both wrote superbly for the voice, but it was Mendelssohn who could "sing" effortlessly regardless of the musical medium. His two string quintets, written at opposite ends of his life, bear out his gift for melody.

Nicholas Mann, in his program note for this recording points out that, unlike his contemporaries, Mendelssohn was unthreatened by Beethovenís looming shadows where chamber music was concerned. This is most certainly true, as evidenced by the ease with which he created in this genre, and at the beautiful economy of form which I believe is the glory of Mendelssohnís output. There is never a case in which an idea goes on for too long, nor does the music ever lose energy by wandering aimlessly, a fault that is the downfall of many a romantic chamber piece.

The Mendelssohn String Quartet with guest violist Robert Mann, give breathless performances of these two gems. The earlier work fares better than the opus 87, which begins at a completely raucous tempo, making the accompaniment figures a complete blur and obliterating any chance that the melody has to soar. These übertempi also wreak havoc on intonation, which is surprising from an ensemble so widely heard and admired. Some peace is restored in the adagio movement, which would be hard to harm even if the attempt was intentional. The opus 18 is played with a little more panache, and lacks the runaway character of the other performance, but the annoying tendency of ícellist Ulrich Eichenauer to dig the lower strings in the faster movements is a total distraction. One literally wonders if he put down the bow and picked up a saw.

BISís recorded sound is its typical shade of excellent. One can seldom find much about which to complain when it comes to the quality of this companyís production. I do wish, however that labels would employ better writers for their booklets. Mannís notes are adequate in their information, but poor in their construction. Doesnít anyone care about the written word any more?

These are certainly professional performances, but I cannot call them either inspired or particularly pleasing enough to warrant repeated listening. In this country, BIS is one of the most expensive labels on the market, so I would be hesitant to rush out and plop down more than twenty dollars for this disc, when there are better performances to be had for cheaper.

Kevin Sutton

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