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Mendelssohn: String Quintets / Buntrock, Leipzig String Quartet

Mendelssohn / Leipzig String Quartet
Release Date: 05/21/2013 
Label:  Md&g (Dabringhaus & Grimm)   Catalog #: 3071806   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Barbara Buntrock
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig String Quartet
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MENDELSSOHN String Quintets Nos. 1 and 2 Leipzig Str Qrt; Barbara Buntrock (va) MDG 30718062 (56:53)

In his enthusiastic review of the fourth volume in the Leipzig’s Mendelssohn Quartet series, Robert McColley expressed the hope that they would take up the quintets, too ( Fanfare 28:1). Now, nearly a decade later—with Stefan Arzberger having replaced Andreas Seidel as first violinist and with Barbara Buntrock as guest violist—his wish has been granted; Read more and while it’s easy to be impatient with the long delay, it’s hard not to be pleased with the results.

These are, on the whole, uptempo readings—and even when they gravitate toward the slow side of the norm (the grief-stricken Adagio et lento from the Second, emotionally the most substantial of the eight movements here), their sense of harmonic weight, coupled with a finely tuned sense of articulation that gives the phrasing exceptional shape, provides a subtle forward pressure that makes the music sound quite a bit quicker than it is. Yet there’s nothing hectic here, nothing pushy. That’s in part because of the ravishing tone of the performances: accents tend to be cushioned, and even the most stratospheric lines (say, in the Finale of the First) are spun out without a trace of edginess. But it’s also because the performers, perfectly balanced between a backward-looking classical approach and a forward-looking romanticism, coax out the music with such unfailing poise.

The performances are also notable for the acuity with which the expanded Leipzig Quartet handles the textural play, central to this music from the first movement of the First (with clear homages to Mozart’s “Jupiter” Symphony) to the contrapuntal animation in the Finale of the Second. This textural acuity is less a matter of the clarity of the inner lines (although that’s not to be minimized) than of the conversational give-and-take among the players. Add to this their fine sensitivity to dynamic gradation and their unruffled virtuosity, and you have a first-rate representation of the scores. Is it enough to convert those listeners who agree with Jerry Dubins that the music is generic and uninspired (32:6)? Probably not—if the sheer freshness and ingenuity of these scores hasn’t hit you on previous listenings, there’s nothing here that’s sufficiently radical to wrench you out of your disdain. But those who love the music—or have yet to make its acquaintance—should find this a welcome addition to their collections.

The sound is excellent. I do wish that the performers had, like the Fine Arts Quartet, also included as an appendix the oddly somber and contrapuntal D-Minor Minuet (a nod to Mozart’s K 388 and 406?) that was dropped when Mendelssohn added the Andante Sostenuto to the First. Otherwise, there’s no significant grounds for complaint. Strongly recommended.

FANFARE: Peter J. Rabinowitz
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Works on This Recording

Quintet for Strings no 1 in A major, Op. 18 by Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Barbara Buntrock (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1826/1832; Germany 
Quintet for Strings no 2 in B flat major, Op. 87 by Felix Mendelssohn
Performer:  Barbara Buntrock (Viola)
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Leipzig String Quartet
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1845; Germany 

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