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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809 - 1847)
Complete Works for String Quartet - Vol. 1
String Quartet in E minor, Op.44, no.2 [25:12]
Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81, no.3Capriccio [5:50]
String Quartet in F minor, Op.80 [27:13]
Maggini Quartet
rec. St. Michael and All Angels, Barton Turf, 2-4 April 2012
MERIDIAN CDE 84618 [58:21]

This marks the beginning of the Maggini Quartet’s collaboration with Meridian. It’s also their first CD in what amounts to Volume I of a projected cycle to coincide with the celebration of the quartet’s twenty-fifth anniversary. The quartet are renowned for their highly acclaimed championing of English chamber music on Naxos. They have, over the years, built up an impressive discography on that label. They have won numerous awards, and have twice been nominated for Grammys. Their zeal for exploring less trodden territory has lead them to commission a quartet by the Scottish composer Stuart Macrae, in celebration of their own anniversary.
Here they are performing more well-known string quartet repertoire by a composer who was constantly preoccupied with chamber music throughout his relatively short life. Both quartets featured here are in the minor key and have certain characteristics in common. They are both somber in mood and have a thread of unease running though them. Each was composed at significant times in Mendelssohn’s life; certainly the character of Op. 80 came about in response to personal tragedy.
The String Quartet in E minor Op 44 happens to be my favorite in the whole set. It was written in 1837 when the composer was on honeymoon, yet it is far from a rapturous response to a joyous event. One is immediately struck by its melancholy. The Maggini get off to a good start, capturing the overcast, agitated opening of the first movement. They immediately convey the unease and underlying tension with the syncopated chords accompanying the first subject. I like the way the second subject is, in contrast, tender and warm-hearted with a hint of nostalgia. There is wonderful dynamic control and the interplay between the instruments is a real dialogue. The second movement is a typical Mendelssohnian scherzo and their playing is sprightly and capricious. They do not wallow in sentimentality in the Andante third movement, as some performers do. The ending brings drama, fire and passion.
Mendelssohn’s final foray into the string quartet genre came in 1847, when he wrote the F minor Quartet Op. 80 following the death of his beloved sister Fanny. He himself was to die in November of that year at the young age of thirty- eight. The quartet reflects all the sadness of his great personal loss. Like the Op. 44 there is an undercurrent of unease running through the first movement and the syncopated accompaniment of the second movement creates agitation: there is no peace here. A lyrical adagio follows, in which Mendelssohn pours out all his grief in a lament for his deceased sister. The finale is delivered by the Maginnis with rhythmic incisiveness.
Sandwiched between the two quartets is the Capriccio, the third of four quartet movements. It was written over a period of twenty years (1827-1847) and like the Op. 80 Quartet, published posthumously. It consists of a short Andante followed by a fugue. One would think that the placing of Op 81, no 3 between the two quartets would offer some respite from the melancholic nature of the two larger works. Alas, this is not so, as the same restive character is present here.
Meridian state that this is ‘A Natural Sound Recording’ and you certainly feel the immediacy of the players. However, there is not the same warmth and intimacy that I found in the Emerson’s recording (DG 477 5370). Some of the clarity and detail seemed lost in the louder passages. This is a promising start to a new Mendelssohn Quartet cycle.
Stephen Greenbank