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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
Complete Works for String Quartet

String Quartet in E flat major (1823) [25.16]
String Quartet in E flat major Op.12 (1829) [23.41]
String Quartet in F minor Op.80 (1847) [25.35]
String Quartet in A minor Op.13 [30.35]
String Quartet in D major Op.44 No.1 (1831) [28.39]
String Quartet in E minor Op.44 No.2 (1838) [27.29]
String Quartet in E flat minor Op.44 No.3 (1838) [30.14]
Andante and Scherzo in E major Op.81 Nos 1 and 2 (1847) [6.08 + 3.28]
Capriccio in E minor Op. 81 No.3 (1843) [6.15]
Fugue in E flat major Op. 81 No.4 (1827) [5.20]
Pacifica Quartet
Recorded at the Chicago Classical Recording Foundation, December 2002, October 2003, March and June 2004
CEDILLE RECORDS CDR 90000 082 [3 CDs 74.52 + 59.26 + 79.23]

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The youthful Pacifica Quartet seems to be earning itself something of a name. In a field dominated by such as the august Leipzig Quartet the Pacifica certainly brings some special qualities to this repertoire. I can see why they’re admired. The first thing that strikes one is their scrupulous sensitivity and corporate warmth.

It is immediately evident in the 1823 E flat major that tonal breadth, phrasing niceties and fine command of the concertante element of these works are the watchwords of their performances. Maybe the opening could be very slightly more wittily shaped but the slow movement has such affectionate solicitude that doubts are silenced. And despite the clarity of the fugal entry points in the finale warmth is never far away. The Pacifica’s internal balance is first class and their control over the release of tension in the E flat major (Op.12) is impressive not least the characterisation of the Canzonetta and the full espressivo weight they vest in the slow movement. Indeed their hell-for-leather playing in the finale put me in mind of the Octet. There’s certainly propulsion in the Op.80 but it’s not of the excessive speed variety; it’s more to do with crisp accents and rhythm. They relax knowingly into the lyric sections without losing momentum and as ever their slow movements are a highlight, with caressing phraseology and real interplay.

They miss no tricks with the inward Adagio introduction to the A minor Op.13 with a full complement of dynamic contrasts, delicacy and sensitivity in its slow movement. I did cavil at the rather laid back Intermezzo but the finale makes amends. In the trio of quartets that make up Op.44 one can enjoy the sheer affection they clearly feel for these works; sample the sheer heart tug of the E minor’s Andante or the cellistic kick in the Scherzo of the E flat major where vivacity is optimum. The same quartet’s slow movement is characteristically warm and affectionate and wonderfully detailed for all that – not at all inert and the sense of intimacy is total.

There are still a few points that some may note; they don’t really convincingly characterise the two central movements of the D major, taking a quasi-andante tempo for the Minuet that just doesn’t work alongside their warm slow movement. Sometimes their affection leads them into minor miscalculations of this kind. And maybe they could have heeded the agitato instruction in the Presto finale of the E minor rather more. Tension could have been that much better screwed up. I should note that they dispense with exposition repeats in the outer quartets of the Op.44 set.

Still the balance very much favours the Pacifica in this body of work. Along with extensive notes and a suitably warm and wonderfully detailed recording they bring insight, imagination and colouristic sensibility to these quartets and the ancillary single movements that make up the quartet cycle. I find them consistently singing, illuminating and devoted interpreters.

Jonathan Woolf

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