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
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.