An exceptionally fine performance of the Mendelssohn string quintets by Jaime Laredo, Ani Kavafian, Heiichiro Ohyama, Kim Kashkashian and Sharon Robinson can be found on CD45883 (61 minutes: ADD). These are rhythmically alert and spirited readings, played with great charm and eloquence. They are an especially welcome addition to a catalogue that sports no rival version of No. 1 and only one of No. 2. The 1978 recording is one of the best in the batch, exceptionally well balanced with a fine feeling of depth and presence. Strongly recommended. (Gramophone)
In 1827, when writing his Quartet in A minor, Op.13, the 18-year-old Felix Mendelssohn was especially interested in Beethovens late quartets at a time when these works were generally written off as confused fantasies of a deaf musician. Mendelssohn's debt to Beethoven is evident in the important role of polyphonic techniques, particularly in the focus on cyclical connections between movements. Ten years on, Mendelssohn composed the three quartets, Op. 44, the D major quartet that closes the present disc the last of these to be completed; on publication, however, Mendelssohn placed it first in the set. Besides the seven complete quartets, Mendelssohn also wrote four individual string quartet movements. These were gathered together and published posthumously as op. 81, and on this second volume of their complete Mendelssohn cycle the Escher Quartet perform two of these pieces, both conceived in August 1847, shortly before the composers death.
Together with the Talich Quartet’s accounts on Calliope, these Mozart string quintets with Arthur Grumiaux and friends represent the best currently available choices. Since the Grumiaux version was released in 1973 it has remained a stalwart of the catalog, and was previously released as part of Philips’ grandiose Complete Mozart Edition in 1991 and later was included with other chamber works in a pair of Duos issued in 1997. The analog sound has held up well compared to current standards and is perfectly acceptable, placing the musicians in a natural, believable sound-stage.
Fine works by any standards, the two string quintets on this disc become even more significant in light of the marginal role accorded to chamber music in the flowering of Russian music during the second half of the 19th century. The common goal of many composers of the period was the creation of a national musical idiom based on Russian folk song, and to them chamber music seemed far too abstract as well as too closely associated with German traditions. There were of course exceptions, and Alexander Glazunov is an obvious example: never a dogmatic nationalist he was himself a competent amateur cellist who learned his craft by playing chamber music, and composed a number of chamber works: in his worklist the Quintet in A major appears between the third and the fourth of his seven string quartets.
Finally, Mendelssohn's string quartets are hitting the big time. Over the past decade, there have been more and, for the most part, better recordings of his quartets that at any time in history. Think of the Alban Berg Quartet's brilliantly bracing recording or the Quatuor Mosaïques' fervently soulful recording. Of course, there have also been some fairly mediocre recordings – think of the Emerson's recklessly energetic recording – and merely passable recordings – think of the Henschel's hastily enthusiastic recording.
"Ensemble 415 is a chamber ensemble devoted largely to the performance of Baroque music on period instruments. The numerical reference in the group's name derives from the pitch used for tuning instruments in the Baroque era. In performing chamber music, Ensemble 415 consists of just a few players, but for larger compositions, the number expands to a minimum of 13 and can reach up to as high as 40 performers. The ensemble's repertory has been broad over the years, taking in many Baroque standards by J.S. Bach, Vivaldi, and Handel, as well as lesser known fare by Muffat and others…"
Two works completed before the composer turned 23. Schumann asserted: "he is the Mozart of the 19th century, he is the brightest composer of the age, and he comprehends, with finest humour, the contradictions of our time more clearly than anyone, so that he is the first to reconcile them".
The Takács Quartet have been recently described as ‘one of the world’s most distinguished ensembles’. Here they collaborate with Britain’s greatest living viola player, Lawrence Power, who with his long association with The Nash Ensemble among others has also proved himself a remarkable chamber musician.