The Strad Issue: January 2014
Description: Satisfying quartet playing, but a diffuse account of the Octet
Musicians: Mandelring Quartet, Cremona Quartet
Composer: Mendelssohn

Composed for the virtuoso Ferdinand David in the first violin’s chair, the third of Mendelssohn’s op.44 quartets is more technically demanding than most violin concertos from the first half of the 19th century. Here, in its third volume of the composer’s complete chamber music for strings, the Mandelring Quartet offers an account that impresses by its apparent spontaneity in the outer movements, with fast tempos creating an exciting vibrancy.

An intense but somewhat melancholy Adagio non troppo injects a sobering quality to follow the playful account of the scherzo, and passing moments of questionable intonation are a small price to pay for the concert-performance atmosphere engendered here.

Conversely, outgoing exuberance and impulsiveness are missing from the Octet’s opening movement, and throughout there’s the impression of two groups brought together just for this recording. Textures do not have the immaculate balance that has become the Mandelring’s trademark, and it is not until the famous scherzo and the presto finale that the work’s inherent vivacity eventually surfaces.

To complete this well-recorded disc we have the first two of the Four Pieces, a work put together after the composer’s death. 

David Denton