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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
String Quintet No. 1 in A major, Op. 18 (1826 rev. 1832) [28:30]
String Quintet No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 87 (1845) [28:14]
Leipziger Streichquartett
Barbara Buntrock (viola)
rec. details not specified

There are relatively few recordings of Mendelssohn’s pair of String Quintets in the catalogue which is surprising given their quality. Chamber music was an area in which he was especially adept no doubt greatly assisted by the practical experience he had gained in the genre from a young age.
The String Quintet No. 1 was a product of his youth composed in the spring of 1826 when he was just seventeen. Following the death of Eduard Rietz in 1832 as a replacement for the original third movement Minuetto Mendelssohn wrote an Intermezzo to serve as a memorial to his friend and former violin teacher. Cast in four movements this A major workwas published in 1833 as his opus 18. The lengthy opening Allegro con moto is confidently played by the Leipziger Streichquartett who unfold a rather curious character of strained tenderness. In truth, this movement is a touch too long for its material. The cantabile Intermezzo marked Andante sostenuto was named by the composer as an “Obituary” in memory of Rietz with the music giving the quartet leader an especially fine and extensive part. Given perfectly understated and tender playing - as heard here - this is not a movement where Mendelssohn wears his heart on his sleeve. Contrapuntal in design with fugato passages the restless and persistently repetitive Scherzo -Allegro di molto is confidently and buoyantly interpreted. In the extrovert Finale: Allegro vivace I love the way the this warm summery music bowls along. 

Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No. 2 dates from 1845. It’s a late work composed at Bad Soden during a time of ill health. This was around the period he also commenced work on Elijah. It wasn’t until 1851 that the Second Quintet received its posthumous publication. The windswept opening Allegro vivace with its fluctuating dynamics inhabits a rather agitated sound-world and one that has a prevailing sense of urgency. The marvellously written Andante scherzando with its curious and scuttling rhythmic shifts is cheerful and lyrical. Here I often imagine novice dancers swirling around on an over-waxed dance floor. The somewhat tense, dark and serious Adagio e lento is intensely gripping. The temperamental quality of Mendelssohn’s writing ensures that the listener never knows what is coming next. Vigorously played by the Leipzig players, the scampering and hyperactive final Allegro molto vivace just bursts with energy.
The MDG engineers have provided beautifully recorded sound being fairly close, clear and well balanced.
In spite of my considerable admiration for this recording my first choice for these works is played by the Henschel with Roland Glassl. Recorded in 2009 at the August Everding Saal, Grünwald in Bavaria the Henschel give sparkling and intense performances on Neos Classics (SACD) 30901 (c/w Bruch String Quintet in E-flat major). Another version of note is from the Fine Arts Quartet with Danielo Rossi. They recorded the Quintets together with the original third movement Minuetto from the first String Quintet. The Fine Arts recording was made in 2007 at Steinfurt, Germany on Naxos 8.570448.  

Michael Cookson