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Some items
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in the first division

extraordinary by any standards

An excellent disc

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summation of a lifetime’s experience.

Piano Concertos 1 and 2
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A Garland for John McCabe


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The best Rite of Spring in Years

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La Mer Ticciati







Foghorn Classics


Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
String Quartet in F minor Op.80 (1847) [27:11]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Quintet for piano and string quartet in E flat major Op.44 (1842) [30:24]
James Tocco (piano)
Alexander String Quartet
No recording details
Experience Classicsonline

Conjoined here are two mid-nineteenth century masterpieces. The first is the F minor Quartet of Mendelssohn and its disc twin is Schumann’s Piano Quintet for which the Alexander String Quartet co-opts that distinguished player James Tocco. It is a democratic and intelligent piece of programming; most groups would essay another quartet and not dissipate their essence in this way – so full marks to the ASQ for this.

Their Mendelssohn is recorded in a warm acoustic, almost too warm because it inflates the sound quite dramatically. Their approach is cut from established romantic cloth. If for example you have encountered the Mendelssohn cycle from another American quartet, the Pacifica, you will appreciate the differences in tone, weight and balance (see review). You will also find that the accenting is crisper with the Pacifica, whose three CD box is pretty much near the top of the leader board at the moment for those wishing to invest in an integral set. So the differences are well established; a more grand seigniorial romanticist warmth from the Alexander, less attaca, less inclination to sculpt passages with strong dynamics – a more equable sound world, in short. Greater bow weight is a constant feature of these differences, palpably so in slow movement where the Alexander are a minute slower than the Pacifica. More important however is the fact that some will actually prefer the greater intimacy conjured by the latter group even at a more mobile tempo. I do have to say I find the Pacifica more inward, despite the fact they espouse a lighter patina. Nevertheless the Alexander project with assurance and fine corporate sonority; their auxiliary romantic position is cemented in the finale which is the only time I really found their sound congested in comparison with the airiness of the Pacifica.

The Schumann sees a fine collaboration with Tocco. Balance is well judged; the sound once again is a warm one.  And this is once again a resilient and warm-blooded romantic reading in which the March roughly bisects, in terms of tempi, the recordings made by the Budapest with Curzon (commercially) and with Balsam live in recital in the Library of Congress. The same qualities that inform the Mendelssohn are present here as well – the ASQ makes a fine homogenous and blended sound, and for those that are attracted to it, this brace of performances will prove rewarding.

Jonathan Woolf


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