The Strad Issue: January 2009
Musicians: Mannheim Quartet, Jone Kaliunaite (viola)
Composer: Mendelssohn

Nietzsche’s description of Mendelssohn as the ‘fine passing phenomenon of German music’ could be applied equally well to the composer’s two string quintets, as both have remained in the shadows despite their significance in the genre’s history. The Mannheimers and Jone Kaliunaite are perceptive and persuasive advocates of these works, demonstrating a striking empathy with the subtleties and tensions that lie within Mendelssohn’s most apparently open music and projecting a delicate expression cloaked with a veneer of Classical reserve.

These players give a moving account of the song-like Intermezzo of op.18 (Mendelssohn’s memorial for his friend Eduard Rietz), imbue the work’s imaginative scherzo with vehemence and vigour, and interpret its largely uneventful opening movement and merry sonata-rondo finale with warmth and sincerity. Their performance of the exultant, ‘orchestral’ op.87 is better still. There is an energy and intensity in their treatment of the outer movements, as well as a thrilling momentum that thoroughly vindicates the finale, which is often considered one of Mendelssohn’s less inspired creations. Crisp precision highlights the nimble scherzo’s contrapuntal detail and the ardently impassioned mood of the elegiac slow movement is atmospherically conveyed. Balance and blend are excellent and the recording is warm and reverberant.