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Felix MENDELSSOHN (1809-1847)
String Quartet in D, Op. 44, No. 1 (1838) [27:32]
String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2 (1837) [24:33]
Cecilia String Quartet
rec. 2015, St-Augustin-de-Mirabel Church, Québec, Canda
ANALEKTA AN29844 [52:22]

The bristling tremolos at the start of the D minor Quartet immediately command the listener's attention; as the incisive first theme vaults above them, you realize these will be gripping performances.

The Cecilia Quartet's playing is firm and unapologetic -- cellist Rachel Desoer's deep, resonant tones on the C string provide a particularly solid support -- and even the little notes are all precisely tuned. Yet they maintain an excellent chamber-music parity, with their distinct individual lines coming together in unified, full-bodied chords. They match their trenchant attacks with a similar boldness in exploiting register changes and playing off contrasting sonorities. Best of all, the players clearly enjoy their own virtuosity, bringing off rapid figurations with obvious relish: the running figures in the E minor's first movement are thrillingly executed.
The Cecilia's no-nonsense address and forthright rhythmic propulsion make for exceptionally focused, purposeful renditions of the outer-movement Allegros. Three of the D major's four movements do betray some lack of planning: the players creep slightly faster through the various episodes, so there's a slight hitch when the main theme has to return in the original tempo. It's a distracting but hardly catastrophic flaw, and it doesn't arise at all in the E minor.

The players also draw plenty of character from the inner movements, sometimes so as to belie expectations. In the D major, the designated Menuetto rocks gently, almost like a 6/8; instead, it's the graceful, modally ambiguous Andante espressivo that suggests a court dance. The Scherzo of the E minor is busy but light, unexpectedly prefiguring Saint-Saëns; the Andante is very andante ("going") indeed, flowing so the melody coheres easily.

These are taut yet warmly played performances. Next to the Cecilia's detailed, engaged interpretations, those in the Coull Quartet's three-disc survey (Hyperion) sound comparatively generic. Analekta’s pleasing recorded ambience only becomes obvious around forte cadences, otherwise subtly enhancing the players’ tone.

Stephen Francis Vasta

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