Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No. 2; No. 5. Capriccio in e. Fugue in E?
New Zealand Str Qrt
NAXOS 8.570002 (78:35)
There is no crossover in personnel between the New Zealand Piano Quartet, which did not impress me favorably in a previous review, and the New Zealand String Quartet featured here. It does not appear that Vol. 1 in this cycle has been reviewed in these pages.
The publication dates of Mendelssohn’s works are so out of sync with the chronology of their
composition that it renders indefensible the old maxim about a composer who went from genius to talent. The order of the six numbered string quartets by date of composition is as follows:
No. 2, op. 13 10/1827
No. 1, op. 12 9/1829
No. 4, op. 44/2 6/1837
No. 5, op. 44/3 2/1838
No. 3, op. 44/1 7/1838
No. 6, op. 80 9/1847
Additionally, Mendelssohn wrote a set of 15 fugues for string quartet in 1821 at the age of 12; an unnumbered String Quartet in E?-Major at age 14 in 1823; and a fugue in the same key (E?-Major) and in the same year (1827) as another fugue that would eventually end up as the final movement in an
(“slapped together”) quartet published posthumously as op. 81 in 1850. The four movements were written over a 20-year period between 1827 and 1847, and have no connection to each other, though the keys of the first three movements—E-Major, A-Minor, and E-Minor—at least occupy proximate tonal orbits. But unless Mendelssohn had become completely unhinged, there is no way he could have concluded such a work with a movement in E?-Major.
Happily, the New Zealand Quartet does not attempt to present the four movements of op. 81 as a bona fide string quartet, presenting only two of its movements as fillers for the two authentic quartets on the disc. Vol. 1 contained Quartets Nos. 1, 4, and 6, so this leaves the remaining two movements of op. 81, plus the Quartet No. 3 in D-Major, op. 44/1, and possibly some of the above-cited miscellany still to be recorded on a third volume.
In a very competitive field, which includes the first-choice Emerson and Pacifica Quartets, and as alternate picks, the Leipzig Gewandhaus, Talich, and Leipzig Quartets, the New Zealand Quartet more than holds its own. First violinist Helene Pohl’s sweet tone ingratiates without turning saccharine or cloying; and the ensemble’s intonation, complementary phrasing, and tonal balance are noteworthy. I was particularly taken with the NZQ’s interpretation of the Intermezzo movement in the A-Minor Quartet No. 2. They bring out the lazy lilting and drone effects of the Allegretto section in a way that is simultaneously amusing and touching. It evoked an image for me of a lame troll dragging its foot, a slightly comical yet sad figure you can’t help laughing at and feeling sorry for at the same time.
Whether you’re on a budget or not, if you’re in the market for some exceptionally fine Mendelssohn string quartet playing, this Naxos disc is a winner. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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