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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
String Quartet No 3 in D Major, Op.44 No.1 [29.20]
String Quartet No.5 in E-flat Major, Op. 44 No 3 [32.32]
Parker Quartet (Daniel Chong (violin), Ying Xue (violin), Jessica Bodner (viola), Kee-Hyun Kim (cello))
rec. Mechanics Hall, Worcester, Massachusetts, April & May, 2015

Anyone who still believes the myth that Mendelssohn’s best work was done in his late teenage years should listen to this CD. This music from 1838 is no salon-sweetness but robust and powerful. One is aware not only that Mendelssohn know his Beethoven very well but that he had something of his own - distinct and important - to say. There is a heroic quality in evidence, especially in the opening movements of these two great quartets, in my view his finest. There is also a genuine energy in among moments of pathos.

For all their genius, we must remember that the ‘mature’ Mendelssohn was still a relatively young man, around 29 at the time of these compositions. The vigour and energy on display are unsurprising.

What is striking in these recordings from the Boston-based Parker Quartet is exactly the sense of energy that they produce. From the very first bars of Quartet No 3, they set out their stall as players of assurance and élan. These are young players, confident and commanding. In general, their tempos are quicker than those of almost any rivals on disc, yet they do justice the quieter and more reflective moments of these works. What they do very well is to bring out the sudden contrasts which are part of Mendelssohn’s method. I was struck by how effectively they are able to develop musical arguments – beautiful phrases are part of developed paragraphs, integrated into an overall vision. To do this requires the virtuosity and insight on display here.

Outstanding performances are matched by an impeccable quality of recording. Each part is clear while maintaining a sense of listening to each of the other players.

There are many excellent recordings of the Mendelssohn quartets out there, including from the Emerson and Melos Quartets on DG, and the interesting, rather meditative accounts from the New Zealand Quartet on Naxos. For me, this new release goes straight to the head of the list of favourites. I hope to hear much more from this talented group, not least the other Mendelssohn quartets.

Michael Wilkinson



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