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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-47)
String Quartets Vol. 2

String Quartet (No. 2) in A minor, Op. 13 (1827) [29:29]
String Quartet (No. 5) in E flat major, Op. 44 No. 3 (1838) [33:49]
Henschel Quartet
Recording: November 13-15, 2003 Bavaria-Studio, Munich, Germany
ARTE NOVA CLASSICS 82876 57744 2 [63:29]

Revered in his lifetime as one of the very great composers Mendelssohnís standing has been on the ebb principally since the mid-twentieth century. It is only a handful of compositions that keeps Mendelssohnís name in the spotlight, works such as, the Violin Concerto, the Overture to A Midsummer Nightís Dream, the Italian Symphony and the Octet are the most likely to be encountered on record or in concert performance. Of the composerís substantial choral output only the oratorios St. Paul and Elijah are regularly performed by choral societies.

Following swiftly on the heels of their critically acclaimed first volume of Mendelssohn quartets this wonderful release from the Henschel Quartet will help to redress the balance and assist Mendelssohnís rehabilitation. Containing three siblings as members, the award-winning Henschel Quartet are a young German based ensemble who are successfully carving out a considerable reputation for themselves. Earlier this year I was fortunate to attend one of their recitals which was a remarkable experience which will stay with me for many years.

Mendelssohn composed his String Quartet (No.2) in A minor, Op. 13 in 1827 when he was eighteen. It is not surprising that this early period work uses the string quartets of Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven as stylistic models. The piece is immediately appealing and packed with melody and invention. The Henschels offer a stylish and delicious account of the quartet. They are particularly effective in the memorable lyricism of the third movement Intermezzo and wonderfully blend the tension and excitement of the complex final movement to its gentle and calming conclusion.

The String Quartet (No. 5) in E flat major, Op. 44 No. 3 was composed in 1838 and it is thought that Mendelssohn gave the work considerable revision. Mendelssohn had studied the late quartets of Beethoven who was undoubtedly the inspiration behind this richly bodied and forward looking quartet. The Henschels clearly have this music in their blood, playing with accomplishment, passion and considerable control. I was particularly impressed with the warm-hearted confidence that they give to the concise and elegant opening movement Allegro. Their consummate handing of the driving, forward momentum of the second movement Scherzo is also worthy of special praise.

The catalogues contain significant competing versions of these two quartets but this outstanding new release is more than capable of holding its own with the best. In the String Quartet (No. 2) in A minor Op. 13, I would not wish to be without the distinguished period-instrument interpretation from Christophe Coinís Quatuor Mosaïques on Audivis Astrée Naïve E 8622. With regard to the String Quartet (No. 5) in E flat major, Op. 44/3 the version from the Coull Quartet from their complete set on Hyperion CDS 44051/3 is much-admired and is worth consideration. The Aurora Quartet have recorded all of Mendelssohnís quartets to significant acclaim and both these featured works are available on a single CD on Naxos 8.550863.

The Henschel Quartet go from strength to strength and on this showing a magnificent career is assured. I can confidently recommend his superb release without reservation.

Michael Cookson

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