Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in D major Op 44 No.1 was actually the last of the Op.44 set to be written and was his own favourite of the set. Right from the opening of the molto allegro vivace the Mandelrings are on top form with vibrancy, sparkle and perfect ensemble, bringing out all the dynamism of this brilliant music. This is quartet writing on a grand scale with the Mandelrings making all the wonderful themes feel fresh. The beautiful and delicate minuetto is given a moderate, flowing tempo that is just right for the un poco allegretto marking, with a lovely trio section.
The andante espressivo ma con moto, with its undertones of the Italian Symphony, has a gently sad feeling. The Mandelrings never labour their playing, keeping the flow moving to great effect. In the final presto con brio, the Mandelrings give us a real presto with playing of lightness and freshness, not to mention some lovely timbres. They bring out so many little details. Again there are hints of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony.
Mendelssohn’s String Quartet in E minor Op. 44 No.2 is the earliest work of the Op.44 set and, in the opening allegro assai appassionato, again shows the Mandelrings’ fine playing, with them following every nuance. This first movement was formed from ideas that were later to become the Violin concerto in E minor. Even where Mendelssohn’s writing flags a little, the Manderings never allow the music to flag. The second movement marked allegro di molto is one of Mendelssohn’s loveliest scherzos, fleet and nimble with some terrific writing for the players who do it proud and there is a beautiful little coda, exquisitely played.
The third movement andante is a lovely flowing melody kept moving in a way that only serves to point up the lyricism. The presto agitato is full of vigour and, as played here, subtle variation of tempi, never allowed to become a mere rushed presto. It lightly moves forward taking in all the lovely variations of melody.
With the String Quartet in F minor Op.80 we move a decade but, emotionally, an even bigger distance from the Op.44 set. This work, written in 1847, follows the death of his beloved sister Fanny and was written only a short time from Mendelssohn’s own death on 4th November that year.
The allegro vivace assai is a restless, even angry movement. The Mandelrings pull all of the angst from this music whilst keeping a transparency and lightness of touch and texture. Any attempt by Mendelssohn to lighten the mood as the movement progresses fails, with the lower strings pulling us back to the restless mood. Mendelssohn’s second movement allegro assai is almost too much, with no let up after the opening movement, with some pretty ferocious writing and a trio section that is mysterious and dark. Again the Mandelring quartet show superb ensemble combined with much passion and sensitivity and control.
The adagio, written as it is in the major key, has the feel of nostalgia rather than sadness. As such, it comes as a relief with the Mandelrings offering playing of sensitivity and feeling. A finale allegro molto, with the Mandelrings showing all of the passion and emotion of this music, brings this restless work to a terrific conclusion.
With the Mandelring Quartet on such brilliant form and with such an excellent recording, this second volume of this complete survey of Mendelssohn’s string chamber music must be a first choice. It certainly is for me.