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Mendelssohn: String Quartets, Vol. 1 / Minguet Quartett

Mendelssohn / Minguet Quartett
Release Date: 10/25/2011 
Label:  Cpo   Catalog #: 777503   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Minguet Quartett
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MENDELSSOHN String Quartets: No. 2; No. 6 Minguet Qrt CPO 777 503-2 (53:39)

This disc couples the early second numbered quartet (a quartet in E? by the 14-year-old Mendelssohn preceded No. 1) and the last quartet. Although about 26 minutes remain unfilled on this disc, I can think of nothing that would be suitable to either match or complement the emotional power of these quartets and that of their performances.

The A-Minor and F-Minor quartets were each written as a Read more personal response to the death of someone dear to the composer—the former in response to Beethoven’s death and the latter in response to the death of the composer’s beloved sister, Fanny. Mourning and anger can be found in both quartets, with anger so clearly shown in the F Minor by its tempestuous opening and finale and mourning evoked by the first-movement opening and last-movement closing sections of the cyclical A Minor.

In the A-Minor Quartet, Mendelssohn, without actual imitation, evokes certain string quartets of Beethoven. The opening bars of Mendelssohn’s Adagio non lento second movement are thematically related to the opening bars of Beethoven’s op. 74 Adagio ma non troppo second movement, and the second subject that follows (at 1:15) is thematically related to the D-Minor subject of Beethoven’s op. 95 second movement, introduced in op. 95 by the viola at bar 34. These Beethoven evocations appear in the final movement at 2:56 and at 6:40 (for the op. 95 reference) and from 7:15 to the quartet’s conclusion (for the op. 74 reference), imbuing the quartet with a cyclical structure.

The agitato that opens the first movement of the F-Minor Quartet, expressing Mendelssohn’s anger that his sister was prematurely taken away, and the ensuing first violin’s plaintive outcry, expressing Mendelssohn’s concomitant anguish, are played with remarkable expressiveness. The Allegro assai second movement is redolent in part b of its a-a-b-b form of the “Il terremoto” conclusion of Haydn’s Seven Last Words , a connection that I judge to have been intentional considering Mendelssohn’s emotional state upon the loss of his sister. That movement, the sunny third movement, and the mercurial finale are played with the same captivating emotional power found in the Minguet Quartet’s A-Minor quartet. The fortissimo dissonances in the fourth movement at 1:30 and at 1: 42, however, are played (surprisingly) with too much restraint.

Based in Cologne and founded in 1988, the Minguet Quartet’s current members are violinists Ulrich Isfort and Annette Reisinger, violist Aroa Sorin, and cellist Matthias Diener. The quartet takes the name of the 18th-century Spanish philosopher Pablo Minguet, whose writings endeavored to make the fine arts accessible to the general public. The quartet has been mentored by members of the La Salle, Amadeus, Melos, and Alban Berg Quartets. In 1997, its members were appointed to instructorships at the Robert Schumann College in Düsseldorf.

There are several three-CD sets available that offer all the Mendelssohn quartets, among them sets by the Emerson Quartet and by the Pacifica Quartet. I reviewed a performance of these two quartets on a single disc by the Elias Quartet in Fanfare 31:1. My preference remains the Emerson’s effort because of the superb intonation and more restrained approach to these impassioned works. However, because this single CD by the Minguet Quartet is so very acutely expressive of the emotional content of these masterpieces and is so very well performed relative to intonation and attention to detail, I recommend it highly.

FANFARE: Burton Rothleder
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Works on This Recording

Quartet for Strings no 2 in A minor, Op. 13 by Felix Mendelssohn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Minguet Quartett
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1827; Germany 
Quartet for Strings no 6 in F minor, Op. 80 by Felix Mendelssohn
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Minguet Quartett
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1847; Germany 

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