Notes and Editorial Reviews
A few notable blows have been struck for Mendelssohn in recent years: Nikolaus Harnoncourt's recordings of the Scottish and Italian Symphonies (Teldec, 5192), Kurt Masur's Elijah (Teldec, 5/93), Stephen Hough in the piano concertos (Hyperion, 9/97), the Carmina Quartet's Opp. 13 and 80 (Denon, 3/92 — nla). And yet it's still unusual to find him being taken really seriously. So rosettes to the young members of the Sorrel Quartet. They obviously recognize the power and originality of the works on this disc, but they don't make the mistake of trying to force-feed the notes with meaning. Lean too heavily on the sforzandos in the opening violin theme of Op. 44 No. 2 and it sounds melodramatic. The Sorrel are more cautious, initially, but from
this grows a performance of passion and dramatic momentum. The main theme of the Allegro first movement of Op. 13 perhaps errs on the side of understatement, but the players' understanding of this movement — and indeed the work as a whole — as a complex and subtle drama ultimately wins the day.
In Op. 42 No. 2 and the two movements from Op. 81 the Sorrel hold up against any current competition. In Op. 13, however, there's that splendid Carmina Quartet version on Denon (sadly currently unavailable in the UK): powerful tone (powerful even in pianissimo), exceptional rhythmic vitality and clarity, intellectual strength and deep expressive penetration — a virtuoso performance in every aspect. For me they win by a narrow margin. But it is narrow. The Sorrel's more introverted drama in the slow movement of Op. 13 is impressive and moving, and so is their handling of the Quartet's remarkable coda, in which the tender love-song from the beginning so long ago, it seems — re-emerges from the dark, nervous drama of the finale.
The Chandos sound is fresh and intimate, and if the cello's late entry in the slow movement of Op. 44 No. 2 (4'30") is a consequence of Chandos's minimal editing policy, good for them — these certainly feel like real performances. If it is this combination you want (and it is generous and very attractive), don't hesitate.
-- Gramophone [1/1998]
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