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CD Review

Felix Mendelssohn

Centaur 3434

String Quintets

  • Quintet for Strings #1 in A Major, Op. 18
  • Quintet for Strings #2 in B Flat Major, Op. 87
  • Capriccio for String Quartet, Op. 81
Harrington String Quartet
Centaur CRC3434 67:37
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The particular appeal of a string quintet, compared to a quartet, for anyone who responds to the sheer sonority of music, comes from the additional fullness, heft, and sometimes mellowness, of the sound provided by the extra viola. There is also added contrast between the lower and upper lines of any counterpoint. In the case of the performances here, these benefits are particularly exemplified by a weighty lower line against the upper strings, in the ravishing Adagio e lento of the Second Quintet. I cannot say enough to express my pleasure in all aspects of that movement.

Emmanuel Lopez, in his fine notes to this CD calls the 1845 B-flat quartet "among the finest of [Mendelssohn's] chamber works." I have no reason to dispute that, especially in view of what I said about the movement I singled out initially. It has melodic invention of high order and Lopez even makes symphonic references in regards to its structure and thematic character. In my own hearing much of it is light and fleet, notably the first and last movements – Allegro vivace and Allegro molto vivace respectively. The short Andante scherzando second movement also has a Mendelssohnian lightness.

None of this is to denigrate the first Quintet. Mendelssohn wrote this at the age of sixteen, around the time of his Octet and Midsummer Night's Dream Overture, both major works. It shows some of the same characteristics as these. He revised it before publication six years later. It has a long first movement, as does the later Quintet and exhibits some of the same lightness of manner. The following Intermezzo, Andante sostenuto, was written in memory of his recently deceased violin teacher. Lopez finds in it "a serene hymn-like character." The Scherzo is fugal and fluttery. Lopez compares this to the Octet "in character, dynamics and articulation (pianissimo and sempre staccato)." The finale includes two fugal subjects.

This chamber group (Tomás Cotik & Keith Redpath, violins; Jennifer Kozoroz & James Dunham, violas; Emmanuel Lopez, cello) performs these pieces with pacing, phrasing, and group ensemble which are all highly satisfying. I have no reservations about anything in their performances. The recording is friendly to the tone of the strings (something I have not always found in recordings of small string ensembles). I give this CD my highest recommendation.

Copyright © 2016, R. James Tobin