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Felix MENDELSSOHN-BARTHOLDY (1809-1847)
Complete Works for String Quartet 
CD 1

String Quartet in E flat major, op.12 (1829) [24.29] 
String Quartet in A minor, op.13 (1827) [29:27] 

CD 2
String Quartet in D major, op.44 No.1 (1831) [28:47] 
String Quartet in E minor, op.44 No.2 (1838) [26:52] 
Fugue in E flat major, op.81 No.4 (1827) [
5:14] 
Capriccio in E minor, op.81 No.3 (1843) [
5:41] 
CD 3
String Quartet in E flat minor, op.44 No.3 (1838) [35:04] 
String Quartet in F minor, op.80 (1847) [25:04] 
Andante and Scherzo in E major, op.81 Nos 1 and 2 (1847) [
10:26] 
CD 4
String Quartet in E flat major (1823) [28:03] 
Octet for strings in E flat major, op.20 (1825) [32:03] 
CD 5

The Hebrides, op.26 (arr. Carl Burchard) [8:51]
Ruy Blas, op.95 (arr. Carl Burchard) [7:12]
Symphony no.1, op.11 (arr. Mendelssohn, 1829) [28:04]
Symphony no.5, op.107 (arr. Friedrich Herrmann) [25:46]

Leipzig String Quartet (Leipziger Streichquartett: Stefan Arzberger (violin I); Tilman Büning (violin II); Ivo Bauer (viola); Matthias Moosdorf (cello))
Octet: Matthias Wollong (violin), Yamei Yu (viola), Hartmut Rohde (viola), Michael Sanderling (cello). Transcriptions: Gerald Fauth, Olga Gollej (piano)
rec. May 2000 – July 2002, December 2006 (transcriptions)
MUSIKPRODUKTION DABRINGHAUS UND GRIMM MDG3071571 [5 CDs: 54:10 + 68:05 + 66:43 + 60:20 + 70:29]

 

Experience Classicsonline


It hasn’t been that long that Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartets suffered from neglect in the recording catalog and the Melos Quartet (DG) seemed the only game in town. But my word, has that been remedied over the last ten, fifteen years. Now there are superb cycles from the Pacifica Quartet (Cedille), Talich (Calliope), Ysaÿe (Decca), Henschel (Arte Nova), and Eroica Quartets (Harmonia Mundi). Additionally available are cycles from the Emersons (DG, including the Octet), the Coull (Hyperion), Cherubini (EMI), and Bartholdy String Quartets (old, but re-issued recently by Arts Music). The Leipzig Gewandhaus Quartet (NCA) has thrown its hat into the ring most recently. 

They are not to be mistaken for the Leipzig String Quartet, whose Mendelssohn String Quartets Musikproduktion Dabringhaus und Grimm (MDG) has now packaged into one box along with every other work that could conceivably be included in such a collection: The youthful work of genius that is the Octet op.20, the 1823 E major String Quartet, the Four Movements for String Quartet op.81, and arrangements of his orchestral works (Symphonies 1 and 5, The Hebrides and Ruy Blas overtures) for piano four hands with violin and cello. That makes the MDG box by far the most generous in content. Although those latter transcriptions, it should be said, are neither reason to choose this, or avoid another, collection. 

There are no weak spots among the quartets; Mendelssohn moves from strength to strength. That the two first numbered quartets are the most popular is not surprising for a composer who wrote some of his finest music before he turned twenty. Just the slow movements of either of these quartets alone are a chamber music dream. Also liable to become dreamy when played with too little energy. 

The Henschel Quartet’s performances, for example, are swift and no-nonsense, with a tendency toward neutrality. The Gabrieli Quartet, whose opp.12 and 13 recordings have just been re-issued on Chandos, indulges the slow movements with unsurpassed delicacy that I haven’t the heart to call “unnecessary”. The competitiveness of those twenty year old, relaxed performances is astonishing. The Leipzig String Quartet counters with solidity and the most homogenous, integrated quartet sound. They slacken the tension in the slow movements and make haste in the fast movements, although not nearly enough to call either tempi “extremes”. Their articulation is superb, although not with as much character as the cursive Talich Quartet performances which remain my favorite, achieve. And they take every repeat. 

Op. 80 is one of the most intense, harrowing, and fist-clenching works Mendelssohn ever wrote; compared to much of his squeaky clean charming music, it’s like an unshaven, boozing Mendelssohn’s announcement of “No More Mister Nice Guy”. A clearer acoustic and keener separation of voices, like that of the Henschel or Talich Quartets, makes the fast movements more detailed; the very atmospheric, rich sound of the MDG recording tends towards mild muddiness on anything except very good, very detailed speakers, especially at the Leipziger’s speed. When, and only when, listened to on HiFi equipment with an analytic bent, the wealth of information contained on the MDG recording does reveal audiophile material. 

The Octet is performed with four colleagues, not, like the Emerson’s gimmick, with themselves. Hausmusik (Virgin), long time favorites that I’ve become used to and comfortable with, don’t yet have to budge from top spot in my estimation, but the enhanced Leipzig group - including Michael Sanderling on cello - turns in a terrific performance with all their strengths - balance and varied tempi - playing in their favor. All that makes the Leipziger box one of the top choices, even as my own favorite remains the Talich Quartet (no Octet) and my first alternative - because they are so different from the rest - the Eroica Quartetalso without the Octet and with volume one not currently available.

Jens F. Laurson
 

Also available separately
: 

Complete String Quartets Vol. 1

String Quartets op. 12 and op. 13
MDG 307 1055-2
 
Complete String Quartets Vol. 2
String Quartets op. 44/1, 44/2,
Fuga and Capriccio
MDG 307 1168-2
 
Complete String Quartets Vol. 3
String Quartets op. 44/3, op. 80, Scherzo and Tema con variazioni
MDG 307 1056-2
 
Complete String Quartets Vol. 4
Octet op. 20
String Quartet in E flat Major (1823)
MDG 307 1057-2
 
Sinfonien Nr. 1 und Nr. 5
Ouvertures „The Hebrides” and „Ruy Blas” in arrangements
Members of LSQ, Olga Gollej and Gerald Fauth, Piano
MDG 307 1469-2
 
Other reviews of Mendelssohn Quartets on MusicWeb:

Michael Cookson provided a comparative review of complete sets.
Jonathan Woolf’s reviewed the Bartholdy Quartet cycle and also the terrific Pacifica Quartet recordings.
Michael Cookson reviewed the Emerson Quartet’s recordings.
Christopher Fifield reviewed volume 1 of the Henschel cycle and Michael Cookson volume 2 and volume 3, as did Terry Barfoot (here).
The New Zealand String Quartet (Naxos, volume 1) was reviewed by David R Dunsmore.
Kevin Sutton recommended the single disc of the Vogler Quartet.
Stephen Francis Vasta wrote about the Juilliard String Quartet recording of the first two quartets and Brian Wilson about the Cherubini Quartet.
 


 

 
 


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