Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No. 2 in a
No. 5 in E?
ARTE NOVA ANO 577440 (63:29)
29:1, I reviewed the first release in the Henschel Quartet?s Mendelssohn cycle, Quartets 1 and 6, considering with it the first disc in the Vogler Quartet?s prospective cycle for Profil, containing Quartets 1 and 4, plus four brief, early pieces for string quartet not included in competing
cycles. That review was favorable to both ensembles, but too brief.
The present disc, equally excellent in performance and like it moderately priced, requires more expansive praise. There has been a bumper crop of new or reissued recordings of all the Mendelssohn Quartets in recent years. In spite of so much exposure to these works, I was enchanted by this reading of the A-Minor Quartet. The work was written when Mendelssohn was 18, and is the most imitative and most adventurous of his quartets. He was so smitten by the later quartets of Beethoven that he quoted some of Beethoven?s phrases, and borrowed some of his procedures. In this and in the E? Quartet written 20 years later, the Henschel siblings?violinists Christoph and Markus, with violist Monika and their permanent cellist, Mathias Beyer-Karlshøj, find exactly the right mood for each movement, as well a convincing realization of the contrasts within each movement. Their playing is individually brilliant and expertly blended. Arte Nova, in partnership with the Bavarian Radio, presents the quartet in splendidly balanced sound.
Three years ago, I was quite sure the new recordings by the Leipzig Quartet on MD & G discs were setting a new standard for performance and recording of these somewhat neglected masterpieces. Now they are certainly not neglected at all, for we have complete sets from (in alphabetical order) the Aurora, Eroica, Coull, Cherubini, Emerson, Pacifica, Talich, and Ysaÿe Quartets. The Cherubini (EMI) and Ysaÿe (Decca) recordings are reissues, now at budget prices; the Aurora discs (Naxos), have always been a bargain. The Emerson set (Deutsche Grammophon) offers a bonus disc of the famous Octet; the Pacifica set (Cedille) offers three discs for the price of two. Which is best? Experts disagree, because a case can be made for most of them, perhaps all. I have described most of them in superlative terms at one time or another. I am pleased to report that, at the very least, the Henschel discs are fully competitive. Are there now too many recordings of Mendelssohn Quartets? Are there too many recordings of Beethoven Symphonies?
FANFARE: Robert McColley
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