Wednesday 14 May 2014

This final instalment of the Mandelring Quartet’s Mendelssohn series for Audite makes a worthy conclusion to a cycle that must shoot to the top of any recommendation

A new release from Audite features the Mandelring Quartet completing their survey of Mendelssohn’s Complete Chamber Music for Strings where they are joined by Gunter Teuffel (viola)  in performances of the two String Quintets and Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op.81.

When I reviewed the first three volumes of this survey I felt sure that this series was on track to become one of the finest yet recorded. There is nothing in this fourth and final volume to change my mind.

Mendelssohn’s String Quintet No.1 in A major, Op.18 was composed in 1826, but the original second movement, a minuet, was eventually replaced by a slow intermezzo, composed in memory of a friend.

There is taut playing with fine textures as the Allegro con moto moves quickly forward. The Mandelrings with Gunter Teuffel have plenty of passion and grit to their playing together with finely judged dynamics & tempi. There are some lovely, lithe hushed passages that are absolutely enchanting as the movement progresses with these artists drawing out all the lines of texture with some exquisite details revealed.

Despite the lovely, mellow flow of Intermezzo. Andante Sostenuto, these players point up every little nuance to winning effect. Every instrument is allowed to reveal its musical line, no doubt enhanced by the fine recording. The beautiful central section receives superb, mellifluous playing from these artists.

They bring crisp, lithe playing right from the opening of the Scherzo. Allegro di molto, providing the feel of tremendous energy, controlled, but full of forward thrust, revealing the remarkably original nature of the young Mendelssohn’s ideas.

These players’ fine control of dynamics is again shown in the Allegro vivace, combined with a freshness and joy. Mendelssohn’s contrapuntal layering of strings gets a terrific outpouring here.

The String Quintet No.2 in B flat major, Op.87 came towards the later end of Mendelssohn’s life, in 1845 whilst he was taking a rest from his conducting duties and was staying in the spa town of Bad Soden am Taunus.

The Mandelrings and Gunter Teuffel hurtle into the opening of the Allegro vivace with wonderful drive and precision. They vary the textures, bright in the more dynamic passages, mellow in the quieter moments. There is a joyous unstoppable quality yet no detail is missed, with sensitively played hushed passages. There is tremendous vibrancy to their playing and how they build the layers of increasingly faster tempi and dynamics is glorious.

In the Andante scherzando they bring lovely, light and airy textures, drawing the ear into every little detail right up to the little pizzicato coda.

The funeral plod of the Adagio e lento is soon replaced by a lighter quality, the transition of which is so finely done by these players. They bring much passion to this heartfelt music, really plumbing its depths. Again there are superbly controlled dynamics. I love how these players subtly let the light in, to occasionally lift the mood. The gentle coda is wonderfully hushed.

There is a really dynamic opening to the Allegro molto vivace with these five players throwing off any gloom and rushing forward with playing of brilliance and panache. There is terrific ensemble in this breathtakingly vivacious allegro and such taut control of dynamics, with a terrific coda.

These are exceptionally fine performances of the two String Quintets.

The Mandelring Quartet completes this final volume with Nos 3 and 4 of the Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op.81. The first two of this opus were included in volume 3 of this series.

The Mandelrings bring an attractive singing tone to the rocking rhythm of No.3 -Capriccio in E minor. Andante con moto – Allegro fugato, assai vivace before the Allegro fugato arrives with more taut playing and great ensemble in this intoxicating piece, full of underlying energy just waiting to burst out.

With No.4 - Fugue in E flat major. A tempo ordinario it is exquisite how the Mandelrings slowly allow this piece to unfold with the various layers slowly varying with so many subtleties brought out, showing the sensitivity that this Quartet can bring to this music. A wonderful example of what Mendelssohn could achieve so finely played.

The performances of the Quintets cannot fail to win new enthusiasts for these wonderful works. They receive a first rate recording and there are excellent booklet notes. This final instalment in this Mendelssohn series makes a worthy conclusion to a cycle that must shoot to the top of any recommendation.

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