Illuminating the context of love and grief within the Mendelssohns’ lives

Takács Quartet: Mendelssohn, Fanny Mendelssohn

The Strad Issue: January 2022

Description: Illuminating the context of love and grief within the Mendelssohns’ lives

Musicians: Takács Quartet

Works: Fanny Mendelssohn: String Quartet in E flat major. Mendelssohn: String Quartets: no.6 in F minor op.80, no.2 in A minor op.13

Catalogue number: HYPERION CDA68330

The first-movement Adagio of Fanny Mendelssohn’s only string quartet has a depth of feeling marked by big vibrato, audible shifts and portamentos, with pronounced shaping of phrases and a feeling of expressive freedom. After the light, skipping Allegretto, the Romanze has a beguiling mix of gentle melodic subtlety and emotional heft, and the final Allegro molto vivace has gleeful energy and passages of real dramatic weight.

One can hardly go on to the second work here, Felix’s F minor Quartet, without recalling that it was his grief at Fanny’s death which prompted him to write it. The Takács players bring grim ferocity to the first movement, hammering out the dotted rhythms and driving forward; the calmer moments, with their vividly moulded lines, bring scant respite. The remorseless punched rhythms of the second movement are equally intense: this is raw, almost savage playing. In the Adagio the unease continues, invoked as much by the shaping of inner lines as by the expression in the melodies. The restlessness of the finale, with its heavy accents and exaggerated dynamics, completes and encapsulates this harrowing performance.

There is anxiety to be found in the first movement of the A minor as well, with its punched dotted rhythms and keening phrases, not to mention the passionate recitative of the finale presto, but it is offset by the gentle meditation of the Adagio and the exquisite Intermezzo. The recorded sound on this excellent CD is clear and well balanced.