I’m not aware that
these performances have ever been re-released
before and am working on the assumption
that they were taped in February 1973.
The documentation of this three CD Arts
set is otherwise entirely silent on
the source material. Fortunately we’re
living in fecund times for lovers of
Mendelssohn’s music for quartet – not
just the Op.44 trio of works but also
the earlier ones and the isolated pieces
such as the 1827 Fuga and the 1843 Capriccio.
The Bartholdy Quartet certainly performs
the cycle more than capably, though
the rather chilly acoustic afforded
them does sometimes militate against
their more effulgent and expressive
moments - of which there are many.
They do bring out the
youthful curve of the 1823 E flat and
take a fluent, firmly moving tempo for
its Adagio. Their corporate sound is
quite lean; not dry, quite, but certainly
not fat or over vibrated. It contributes
to performances that are almost always
on the ascetic side, ones that avoid
prettifying and are often quite plainly
spoken. Dynamics in the Minuet are rather
ironed out by the recording level but
the fugal finale is well brought off.
The A minor of 1827 opens rather coolly
but the inner movements are the problem;
neither is sufficiently contrasted,
with the result that the Adagio non
lento and the Intermezzo sound to be
taken at basically the same tempo. The
proto-Smetana finale however is deftly
done. A word of caution about the documentation
at this point; the track details for
this quartet are actually those of the
Op.12 E flat, which have been duplicated.
It’s the E flat that
gets a pleasing reading. Once more,
a hallmark of the playing, the tonal
quality of the foursome is rather reserved
and narrow-bore, but they spring the
once famous Canzonetta with fine feeling
and equally fine rhythmic control. Contemporary
quartets will infuse the slow movement
with a far greater range of tone colours
and warmth than the Bartholdy however.
The Op.44 No.1 is neat if rather chilly.
They take the con moto direction
of the slow movement to the letter and
whilst some will welcome its rather
upright, slightly brittle patina others
will doubtless savour an injection of
breadth and warmth. The same priorities
inform the E minor; a no-nonsense tempo
for the moments, a Scherzo where the
accents could be more sharply etched
and a slow movement that’s very nearly
an Allegretto in their hands. The last
of the Op.44 set, the E flat, once again
sees well set tempos for outer movements.
Here again the Scherzo can be a touch
inert and whilst there’s some good hymnal
delicacy in the slow movement there’s
also some one dimensionality about tone
and a hint of metrical phraseology.
The late F minor, Op.80, is propulsive
– taking care not to relax too much
for lyric subjects – but not unfeeling.
They can certainly sustain a fleet tempo,
as they do here, without sounding breathless
but the obvious corollary is a relative
sense of disengagement. The other smaller
pieces are more than mere makeweights
- not least the Andante and Scherzo
of 1847, and they all conform to the
quartet’s clear aims of clarity and
Given these priorities
a recommendation will be largely confined
to admirers of the quartet. The Leipzig
Quartet’s traversal of the complete
works is an outstanding one and more
recently groups such as the Pacifica
have brought a touching intimacy to
bear on the quartets. The documentation
is in English, French and German.