String Quartets, Vol. 1:
No. 1 in E flat, Op. 12; No. 5 in E flat, Op. 44/3; No. 6 in F minor, Op. 80 Doric String Quartet
Chandos CHAN 20122 86:35 mins (2 discs) These quartets chart Mendelssohn’s progress from the ebullient young prodigy, through his maturity, to the bitterness of his final year. As Bayan Northcott’s excellent notes suggest, the shadow of Beethoven is often in the background, and the Doric enter the first movement of the Op. 12 Quartet with assurance in that musical world. There is confidence and unanimity of approach to dynamics, tone, vibrato and rubato; and the change of style to the more elegantly Mendelssohnian ‘Canzonetta’ is effortlessly made. The naturalness of the playing is matched by the comprehensive Chandos sound: not too distant, and with exactly the right amount of resonance.
The finale’s minor-key flavour and dancing rhythm prefigures the finale of the Italian Symphony, and also the violence of the first movement of the F minor Quartet, aptly placed on the same disc.
There could be more edge to the performance here, especially at the start, and at times in the finale: this is Mendelssohn keening over the death of his sister Fanny. The restless scherzo, with its unsettling cross-rhythms, gets back into the groove though, and the Adagio treads the right line between feeling and sentimentality.
Op. 44/3 is the longest of the quartets, and the outer movements can sometimes come across as prolix. The Doric’s performance steers clear of this trap – again through the controlled variety and technical ease of their musicmaking – as well as tripping the light fantastic in the scherzo, and laying bare the emotional ambiguity of the Adagio. I look forward to Volume 2. Martin Cotton