The Strad Issue: January 2017
Description: The Escher Quartet completes its Mendelssohn survey in style
Musicians: Escher Quartet
Composer: Mendelssohn
Catalogue number: BIS 2160 (SACD)

With the third and final instalment of its Mendelssohn quartets survey, the New York-based Escher Quartet ends on a high, entirely upholding the standards of earlier releases in the series. Technically, the playing is beyond reproach: indeed, this could be a study in quartet performance. There’s a level of individual technical precision and a collective musical purpose that is endlessly compelling. The BIS sound engineers have given the recording a quality that captures this vividly but not intrusively. These are readings that withstand the most searching listening.

There’s a verve and energy to the playing, too, as in the first movement of the E flat major String Quartet, in which the brisk four-note opening figure drives the whole movement inexorably forwards; while the beginning of the F minor Quartet is unleashed with shocking power. However, whereas the scherzo of the E flat minor lacks nothing in detail, its urgency could be somewhat more hushed.

There’s a pliant fluency to the Fugue from the op.81 Four Pieces (the Capriccio also features on this disc), which lends a lyrical breadth to what might otherwise appear a didactic conceit. Despite a heart-rending quality to the F minor Quartet’s Adagio, the overall impression is of sheer brilliance: extreme Mendelssohn, not for the faint-hearted.

Edward Bhesania