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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
String Quintet No. 2 in B flat, Op. 87 [31:57]
String Quintet No. 1 in A, Op. 18 [33:02]
Menuetto (original 3rd movement of Quintet No. 1) [5:26]
Fine Arts Quartet (Ralph Evans (violin); Efim Boico (violin); Yuri Gandelsmam (viola); Wolfgang Laufer (cello)); Danilo Rossi (viola)
rec. Il Bagno, Steinfurt, Germany, 21-24 March 2007. DDD
NAXOS 8.570488 [70:23]
Experience Classicsonline


Thereís something about a string Quintet that Iíve always found far more appealing than a Quartet. While many composers thrive on the economy of means that a quartet necessitates, they can also be inspired to special heights by the extra layer that a quintet supplies. That extra instrument makes all the difference. Iíd far rather listen to Mozartís great string quintets than his quartets, and Schubertís quintet is perhaps the greatest work of chamber music ever composed. So it was with a positive predisposition that I turned to this Mendelssohn disc, and I wasnít disappointed.

Nineteen years separate these two works. The first quintet was written when Mendelssohn was only 17, the same year in which he produced his Midsummer Nightís Dream overture, while the second dates from the last year of his life. The difference in style is fairly evident. No. 1 is full of youthful exuberance, though still combined with breathtaking artistry, while No. 2 is more thoughtful and restrained.

The first quintet, for some reason given second on this disc, is unremittingly sunny, from the pastoral first movement, through the affectionate intermezzo and busy scherzo to the playful finale. The second, on the other hand, is more subtle and nuanced. The first movementís first subject on the violin takes off in a typical "flying" theme while the others provide busy momentum which propels the music forward to its sunny conclusion. The second movement is a quirky (parody?) minuet, while the third is a funereal piece of sombre majesty, and the finale is a sparkling vivace. As an additional bonus we are given the original second movement (Minuet) of the first quintet: the current one is a replacement written as a memorial to Mendelssohnís friend, the violinist Eduard Rietz, to whom the Octet had been dedicated.

The performances from the Fine Arts Quartet are ideally suited to this kind of music. They tailor their sound perfectly to the very different demands of each movement and carry off the technical issues flawlessly: listen to the skilful double-stopping at the end of the first quintetís first movement. At no stage, however, does the music sound academic or pushed: the musicians work together as an integrated unit and listen to each other to "gel" seamlessly. I get the feeling that they really enjoyed making this disc. The Naxos sound is close in a warm acoustic, quite fitting for this music.

So unfamiliar as this repertoire is, it repays the effort in getting to know it, and one can hardly imagine these works being given a more sympathetic reading.

Simon Thompson



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