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String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 12 (1829) [21:49]
Fugues (1821): d minor [2:15]; F major [1:55]; g minor [2:31]; c minor [2:50]
String quartet in e minor, Op. 42, No. 2 (1838) [25:48]
Vogler String Quartet (Tim Vogler and Frank Reinecke, violins; Stefan Fehlandt, viola; Stephan Forck, cello))
rec. 3-7 March 2004. venue not listed
PROFIL PH 04091 [57:08]
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Felix Mendelssohn rates as one of the nineteenth century’s foremost composers. He was a prodigious genius on the level of Mozart, a music historian that is credited with the revival of the great baroque masters Bach and Handel, a child of wealth whose fame spread easily due in large part to his ready access to major publishers, performers and venues, and a truly substantial composer whose life was cut tragically short.

That he lived for fewer than forty years makes his enormous output ranging from delightful piano miniatures to major symphonic and choral works all the more remarkable. Although limited to only thirty-one pieces - a relatively modest number in comparison to the piano and choral output - chamber music makes up a serious and significant part of Mendelssohn’s oeuvre.

Of all the available influences on romantic composers, Johann Sebastian Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven played the biggest role in young Mendelssohn’s development. As the basis of most compositional training at the time, Bach’s keyboard works were well known to him. He was also well acquainted Bach’s major choral works, in particular the great Passions. He was later to mount some of the first performances of the St. Matthew Passion to have been heard since the Bach’s death in 1750.

Beethoven’s late string quartets, incomprehensible to and thought unplayable by his contemporaries, were also well known to Mendelssohn, who had studied them thoroughly as a youth, and incorporated many of their advanced ideas into his own compositions early on.

Composed in 1821, the early fugues that are performed on this program are clearly influenced by Bach. Mendelssohn even goes so far as to use the Lutheran chorale tune Wie Schön leuchtet der Morgenstern as a cantus firmus for the Fugue in F, a signature Bach technique. That these masterful exercises in counterpoint were composed by a twelve year old boy is utterly astounding, and although perhaps academic in intent, they are full of youthful optimism and confidence. They are perhaps the high point of this recording, and are performed by the Voglers to complete perfection. Straightforward and clear, they are little aural gems and are completely captivating.

The Op 12 Quartet opens with a tuneful introduction that is followed by a sonata exposition and development that harks back to Beethoven - with the slight straying gesture of adding a third theme to the mix. The slow movement is noteworthy for its distinctly memorable main tune. The work closes with a stormy virtuosic third movement. The e minor quartet op. 42 was written some fifteen years after op. 12, and while it presents no radical formal changes from the earlier work, it is more prone to dramatic mood swings and harmonic and melodic tensions than the more youthful quartet. As such it can be said to be of a more romantic nature that the classically-oriented earlier work.

The Voglers play with a taut sense of ensemble throughout with spot-on intonation, a rich warm tone, careful attention to detail, and a magnificent sense of voicing and collegial give and take. No overbearing soloist types in this choir; these musicians play with a complete dedication to the music itself, capturing both the sweetness that is a given in the case of Mendelssohn as well as the seriousness that comes with any genre of "absolute" music.

Profil’s Edition Gunter Hänssler is rapidly showing itself to be one of the most consistently fine and interesting new labels on the market. That they are under the distribution aegis of Naxos is no great surprise. Klaus Heymann proves time and again that he "knows how to pick ’em" as we say in the American South. Program notes are interesting, scholarly and well translated; presentation and packaging are attractive, and the sound quality is superb.

Highly recommended.

Kevin Sutton


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