Mendelssohn: Complete Chamber Music For Strings Vol 3 / Mandelring Quartet
MENDELSSOHN String Quartet in E?, op. 44/3. Four Pieces for String Quartet: Nos. 1, op. 81/1; 2, op. 81/2. Octet, op. 20 1 • Mandelring Qrt; 1 Qrt di Cremona • AUDITE 92658 (SACD: 74:00)
I will not waste time or space praising these performances with faint damnation; my censure is without reservations. In issues 36:3 and 36:5, respectively, I reviewed with increasing discontent Volumes 1 and 2 of the Mandelring’s survey of Mendelssohn’s complete chamber music for strings. I found the players technically proficient, but not quite as accomplished as those of the Emerson and Pacifica Quartets in this repertoire, and not as musically poised or polished as either of them. I also complained about the Mandelring’s overly aggressive approach, with bows digging hard into strings in heated forte s and rapid passagework, lending a good deal of abrasiveness to the tone which I found unpleasant and fatiguing. Nor did the recordings help any, with microphones placed so close to the instruments one could practically smell the clouds of rosin-dust spiraling through the air.
The present Volume 3 makes no corrections to the above grievances; if anything, it doubles down on them with almost nose-thumbing insolence. The Quartetto di Cremona, an ensemble I spoke very highly of in a 37:1 review of its launch of a new Beethoven cycle, here joins the Mandelring in the most hectic, driven, and inelegant performance of Mendelssohn’s Octet I think I’ve ever heard. Bows flail and scratch, bruising and crushing the music under them as if stomped on by jackbooted thugs, and Sebastian Schmidt, the Mandelring’s first violinist, goes after his high notes in full attack mode.
The Octet by the 16-year-old Mendelssohn is a work of incomparable genius, but it’s a score brimming over with youthful high spirits and lightness of bearing. Where are the grace, refinement, felicity, stylishness, and sophistication in playing like this? The answer is simple; nowhere. If it’s all of these qualities you want in a performance of the Octet, I’d suggest you listen to the recording by the Afiara and Alexander String Quartets reviewed in 33:6.
With this third strike in the Mandelring’s Mendelssohn survey, I would strongly urge you to stick with the Pacifica and Emerson Quartets. The Pacifica, unfortunately, did not include the Octet in its cycle of the string quartets, but the Emerson did, and, as with everything the Emerson does, it’s a wonderful performance, though, for the Octet, I still prefer the Afiara and Alexander on Foghorn Classics.
P.S. I (dis)respectfully offer the same advice to Audite as I have to other record labels of German provenance: drop the “Bartholdy.” To everyone else around the world, it’s just Mendelssohn, so get over it.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Catalog Number: AUD92658
Composer: Felix Mendelssohn
Orchestra/Ensemble: Cremona String Quartet, Mandelring String Quartet