Wednesday 18 July 2012

Superb playing by the Mandelring Quartet in Mendelssohn’s String Quartets

In my blog of 28th April 2012 I wrote that Mendelssohn’s chamber music is some of the most attractive music he ever wrote. On that occasion I was particularly featuring a fine recording by The Swiss Piano Trio on Audite Records

Audite seem to have the knack of finding some of the best chamber music players around and this is no less the case with the superb Mandelring Quartet who have started a series of recordings of Mendelssohn’s complete chamber music for strings for Audite. Volume 1 of this series has quartets in E flat major Op 12 and in A minor Op. 13 coupled with the early unnumbered E flat major quartet.

The Mandelring Quartet from Germany  have already recorded for Audite, receiving high praise for their complete cycle of the Shostakovich quartets (Audite 21.411). The Mandelring Quartet’s publicity information says of the quartet that ‘its expressivity and remarkable homogeneity of sound and phrasing have become its distinguishing characteristics.’ Having listened to this disc I have to say that this is no exaggeration.

It is obvious from the start of the Op.12 quartet that the Mandelrings are alive to every nuance of this most lyrical of first movements. There is the most wonderful precision in their playing of the delightful second movement Canzonetta and, in the following Andante, this quartet show expressive playing of the highest order with the most beautiful textures. Indeed, it is in the hushed moments that the Mandelrings show the most refined sensitivity.

Their razor sharp ensemble comes to the fore again with the infectious forward thrust of the final movement and when the theme from the first movement reappears towards the end there is irresistible playing from this fine quartet.

If Mendelssohn was beginning to break away from the influence of Beethoven in the Op.12 quartet, Op.13, written earlier but only published later, shows a much heavier influence of Beethoven. The Mandelrings play with all the passion and lyricism needed, their weight and tone bringing out the emotion of the music.

The second movement has the rather unusual marking ‘adagio non lento’ which, taken literally, means ‘at ease not slow’. The Mandelrings flexible dynamics and tempo hit the mark perfectly with great depth and commitment to their playing.

The Mandelrings have the lightness of touch that is pure Mendelssohn in the sparkling Intermezzo whilst in the final presto they have a fine tautness of playing in the dramatic opening, with the return of the opening adagio superbly judged leading to the quiet coda.

The E flat major Quartet that completes this disc is an earlier work, written in 1823, when Mendelssohn was only 14 years of age, but not published until 1879. This places the quartet two years before the famous String Octet.

There is sparkling playing in the first movement showing how the Mandelrings can bring out the lighter side of Mendelssohn whilst in the following adagio they bring out more beauty than I thought possible from Mendelssohn’s rather four square writing.

There is a lively, rather Mozartian, minuet to which the Mandelrings bring great charm before the final fugue where this quartet show again their tremendous precision clearly weaving all the lines of the music of this contrapuntal last movement.

This is not a work to be compared with the later quartets but in a fine performance such as this it gives much enjoyment.

The recording is first rate with real presence and detail. Despite my particular liking of the Talich Quartet on Calliope in these works, this new issue must go straight to the top. Highly recommended.

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