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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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Mendelssohn wrote his famous A Midsummer Night's Dream Overture in 1826, when he was a mere seventeen years of age. Many consider it his greatest work, and more than a few musicologists have expressed astonishment that someone so youthful could compose such a masterpiece. Well, earlier that same year Mendelssohn produced his First String Quintet, which is also masterly. Indeed, and its expressive language is quite direct, its themes and rhythms catchy, and its appeal immediate. The later quintet here and the Capriccio from the Four Pieces for String Quartet are mature compositions of strong appeal too that perhaps may also carry a bit more subtlety, if not depth.

The Harrington Quartet (Tomás Cotik & Keith Redpath, violins; Jennifer Kozoroz, viola; Emmanuel Lopez, cello), along with violist James Dunham, are right on target in each piece. I can't imagine a significantly finer performance of either quintet: in their hands this mostly light and buoyant music effervesces with spirit and energy, and with vivid color and infectious joy. Their attacks are clean and precise, their intonation flawless and gorgeous, and their tempos and phrasing well-judged and sensitive. In short, they perform as one musical body, collectively striking you as master musicians who've played together for many years.

The Capriccio is a more serious piece than its disc mates: it opens darkly with a solemn, brooding theme that seems to cast a pall over the proceedings. The contrapuntal episode that follows bristles with energy in its Bach-like busyness, but the mood only marginally brightens. Once again, the performance is splendid, but I must confess that I would have liked to hear the other three pieces comprising Op. 81 as well. Perhaps the remaining disc space wouldn't have accommodated them. Whatever the case, this disc is a must for Mendelssohn mavens, as well as for aficionados of 19th century chamber music. The sound reproduction is well balanced and vivid and the album notes by the group's cellist, Emmanuel Lopez, are enlightening. I should mention that this album was reviewed a few months ago by colleague, R. James Tobin, and he too found the performances of extraordinary quality (Centaur CRC3434). So you have two thumbs up on this splendid Centaur disc.

Copyright © 2016, Robert Cummings