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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. posth. 80 (1847) [24.52]
Capriccio in E minor, Op. 81/3 (1843) [5.25]
Henry PURCELL (1659-1695)
Fantasia No. 6 in F major [3.29]
Fantasia No. 8 in D minor [3.19]
Fantasia No. 10 in E minor [3.13]
Fantasia No. 11 in G major [2.51]
Alinde Quartett
rec. 2018, Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal, Germany

Titled Lichtwechsel (Change of Light), for its debut album Alinde Quartett has chosen Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 6 – a masterwork published after his death, together with his single movement piece Capriccio. Also included are four of Purcell’s Fantasias originally written for a consort of three to seven viols.

The String Quartet No. 6, Op. 80 a work full of striking contrast, is untypical of Mendelssohn’s output in general. In 1847, with only months to live, Mendelssohn depicted in music his heartfelt response to his shattering grief over the sudden death, in May of the same year, of his beloved sister and soul-mate Fanny. For many weeks after Fanny’s death her devastated brother was incapable of any kind of work. Having retreated to Switzerland for both physical and mental recuperation, Mendelssohn composed his String Quartet No. 6 in F minor. Sometimes referred to as a ‘Requiem for Fanny’ the poignant and turbulently-charged score serves as a fitting musical lament for the death of his sister, for in it one hears the heart-wrenching pain of Mendelssohn’s personal grief. Striking for its emotional force, the score is deeply moving, tragic and full of dissonance, boldly exceeding the formal and expressive limits within which Mendelssohn had previously confined himself. Here Mendelssohn leaves behind the fantasy world of elves, fairies and visionary landscapes, joining humanity with his customary sense of emotional restraint disintegrating.

The opening movement marked Allegro vivace assai immediately sets a sombre mood and is cast in a serious manner worthy of Beethoven. Here the Alinde Quartett is highly charged, providing playing bursting with burning passion. It would be misleading to call the second movement a Scherzo, as it contains so little in the way of cheer and pleasure in the manner of the Mendelssohnian-elfin-style Scherzo we have become used to. Designated Allegro assai the writing is punctuated with jarring syncopated rhythms. Again, there is something rather Beethovenian about this movement. Clearly at ease with the complex rhythmic changes of the writing, the Alinde provides an interpretation suitably bristling with unsettling agitation and infused with dark melancholy. The deeply lyrical third movement (Adagio) can be regarded as an elegy for Fanny. Mendelssohn was renowned for his ‘songs without words’ and this movement is cast nicely into that mould. This is playing of stark passion by the Alinde, creating an unyielding sense of aching reflection. The final movement, marked Allegro molto, revisits the turbulence of the first two movements, namely the agitated tremolos of the first movement and the jarring syncopations of the second. Unmistakable aggression fills this music, as if the composer was working through the angry phase of his complex and unbearable grief. The Alinde here conveys a furious mood of restlessness and uncertainty which is unrelenting, together with an undertow of bitter resentment.
My first-choice recommendation in the String Quartet No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80 is the 2001 Munich account from the outstanding Henschel Quartet primarily for their polished craftsmanship and winning communication of emotional contrasts. This music runs through the blood of the Henschel and this interpretation demonstrates a real unanimity of vision between the players as well as scrupulous attention to the detail of the scoring. Also enjoyable are the highly satisfying accounts by the Pacifica Quartet (2002/04 Illinois) on Cedille, the Emerson Quartet (2003/04 New York) on Deutsche Grammophon and the passionate 2012 Limousin account from Quatuor Ébène on Erato.

The Four Movements for String Quartet, Op. 81 are miscellaneous, individual movements that Mendelssohn wrote between 1827 and 1847. It is often remarked upon just how little musical kinship there is between these four unrelated pieces, however they are sometimes played as a sort of supplementary work and the grouping was given the opus number 81 when published posthumously in 1850. I have seen the Four Movements played in different combinations but most usually in the published numbered sequence of Andante, Scherzo, Fugue and Capriccio. Here the Alinde Quartett has chosen to play the Capriccio movement as a stand-alone work. Marked Andante con moto the piece is infused with melancholy, the opening section (Andante) is given a particularly splendidly performance. With considerable exuberance, the brisk Fugato is given a rather weighty performance in the manner of Beethoven.

In truth I favour the Purcell Fantasias played by viol consort as originally intended and this guise for string quartet is not really to my taste. Nevertheless, the Alinde Quartett plays beautifully, providing reverence and pathos to these readings. Recorded at Immanuelskirche, Wuppertal the Alinde Quartett is quite closely recorded without the sound being fierce and it benefits from splendid clarity. Moritz Benjamin Kolb is the author of the readable booklet essay which provides all the essential information. I have, though, a grumble with the playing time of just over forty-three minutes which is derisory by current standards.

This is a commendable debut album from Alinde Quartett splendidly played and well recorded on Hänssler Classic. I’m already looking forward to the next album from this talented group.

Michael Cookson

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