Mendelssohn: String Quartets – No 5 in E flat major, Op 44 No 3; No 6 in F minor, Op 80; Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op 81 – Capriccio in E minor (No 3) & Fugue in E flat major (No 4)

Reviewed on Thu 22 Dec, 2016

Nothing else in the composer’s output quite compares with the burning angst of this Op 80 masterpiece, and the Escher Quartet survey its vast emotional range, from the breathless opening to the emotional depths of the Adagio, with an intuitive grasp of what the music is about.

Imagine having never encountered a note of Mendelssohn’s music and chancing upon the F minor Quartet first. What was this man up to? The fizzing intensity of the first movement, the near-desperation of the second – its lunging, propulsive phrases rocketing us to goodness knows where. No ebullient, effervescent Mendelssohn scherzo, this, but a cry from a grieving heart, the composer’s beloved sister Fanny having recently died. Nothing else in the composer’s output quite compares with the burning angst of this Op 80 masterpiece, and the Escher Quartet survey its vast emotional range, from the breathless opening to the emotional depths of the Adagio, with an intuitive grasp of what the music is about. Come the last of the Op 44 Quartets, and you’re on more familiar territory, the opening Allegro vivace warmly communicative, the scherzo, a busily contented diversion, the Adagio non troppo, a richly harmonised ‘Song without Words’. Between these two extremes we’re offered a couple of the four pieces that make up Mendelssohn’s Op 81, the Capriccio being the more striking of the two. This is the last volume of the Escher’s 3-CD BIS survey of Mendelssohn’s six numbered string quartets, and, like the others, is much to be recommended.
–Rob Cowan