Notes and Editorial Reviews
String Quartets: No. 2,
String Quartet in E?
VIRGIN 50999 464546 (76:50)
Felix Mendelssohn’s first published quartet, No. 2 in A Minor, from 1827, is perhaps the best known of his six. Opening this splendidly engineered disc, it serves to introduce the technically impeccable, passionate playing
of the Ebène Quartet. It’s followed by Fanny Mendelssohn’s E?-Quartet from 1834, a work that’s more a succession of separate, unrelated movements than a fully integrated whole, comparable to Felix’s Four Pieces for String Quartet, op. 81. Its first movement is quite touching, shares a melodic motive with the first movement of Felix’s F?-Minor Fantasy, op. 28, and has the feeling of a slow introduction. The second movement, Felix’s favorite of the four, is an accomplished scherzo in moderate tempo. The third and fourth movements, an intense
finale, are more extensively developed, and, according to Fanny, inspired by Beethoven’s late works. It’s a pleasure to make the acquaintance of Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel’s beautiful work in such a vivid performance. Its turbulent last movement makes a fine segue into Felix’s far stormier op. 80 quartet from 1847, written in anguished reaction to Fanny’s death.
The Ebène Quartet’s Mendelssohn exemplifies what I think of as a “Marlboro” style, in which young, technically fearless musicians play every note as if their life depends on it, often with extraordinarily mature sounding results. (There may be a Marlboro connection in that the Ebène Quartet, who have been an ensemble for 13 years, are beneficiaries of the Borletti-Buitoni Trust, the sponsor of this recording, in which the great Mitsuko Uchida—co-director of the Marlboro school and festival—has played a part. She’s thanked in the “dedication” section of the CD booklet.)
In a review of their Mozart (
35:4), Jerry Dubins criticized the Ebène for playing “with an agenda” in which gratuitous ritards and other affectations were imposed on the music. Happily, that isn’t the case here. If there’s any agenda to their Mendelssohn, it’s to put to rest the notion of Mendelssohn as a “classical” (i.e., restrained) romantic, by showing that his quartets can be as powerful in expression as Schumann’s or Brahms’s.
In all three quartets, the Ebène urgently brings the music to life, as much in gentler, lyrical sections as in brilliant ones, always with maximum color and contrast. The feeling of repose found in the Talich Quartet’s op. 13 is missing, and perhaps the Ebène drives and accentuates op. 80’s second movement too exaggeratedly, but I forgive them. I am particularly impressed by the security and confidence of the Ebène’s two first violinists; Pierre Colombet and Gabriel Le Magadure, who switch off. Le Magadure plays first violin in op. 13, providing maximum focus to the group’s strongly defined balance. By comparison, Broadus Earle, the first violinist of the The New Music Quartet, whose admirable op. 13 is beautifully restored on Pristine Audio, is a less intrepid guide, comparatively reticent. The Ebène’s performances are the equal of the Emerson, Pacifica, Leipzig, or Henschel Quartets in their excellent and relatively recent Mendelssohn recordings. We are in a period of revival of these great works on disc, and if there is to be a continuing cycle by the Ebène Quartet, it could turn out to be the most brilliant of all.
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Works on This Recording
Quartet for Strings no 6 in F minor, Op. 80 by Felix Mendelssohn
Written: 1847; Germany
Quartet for Strings no 2 in A minor, Op. 13 by Felix Mendelssohn
Written: 1827; Germany
Quartet for Strings in E flat major by Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel
String Quartet No. 2 Op.13 in A minor: I Adagio - Allegro vivace
String Quartet No. 2 Op.13 in A minor: II Adagio non lento
String Quartet No. 2 Op.13 in A minor: III Intermezzo : Allegretto con moto
String Quartet No. 2 Op.13 in A minor: IV Presto
String Quartet in E flat major: I Adagio ma non troppo
String Quartet in E flat major: II Allegretto
String Quartet in E flat major: III Romanze
String Quartet in E flat major: IV Allegro molto vivace
String Quartet No. 6 Op.80 in F minor: I Allegro vivace assai
String Quartet No. 6 Op.80 in F minor: II Allegro assai
String Quartet No. 6 Op.80 in F minor: III Adagio
String Quartet No. 6 Op.80 in F minor: IV Finale: Allegro molto
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