FELIX MENDELSSOHN BARTHOLDY: “Complete Chamber Music for Strings” = String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 12; String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13; String Quartet in E-flat major; String Quartet in D major, Op. 44, No. 1; String Quartet in e minor, Op. 44, No. 2; String Quartet in f minor, Op. 80; String Quartet in E-flat major, Op. 44, No. 3; Four Pieces for String Quartet, Op. 81, Nos. 1-4; Octet in E-flat major, Op. 20; String Quintet No. 1 in A major; String Quintet No.2 in B-flat major – Mandelring Quartet/Gunter Teuffel, viola/Quartetto di Cremona – Audite 21.436 (4 CDs), TT: 296:12 [Distr. by Naxos](8/14/15) ***1/2:

Very well-done and comprehensive collection of these masterworks.

Felix Mendelssohn is considered by many to be a chamber music master at heart. Given his early start as a performer who wrote for talented friends, like violinist and composer Ferdinand David, in salon settings; this is to be expected. As much as I do like his larger works, like his orchestral and choral output, there is something rich and intimate about works such as these that I have always enjoyed.

This collection is a very rewarding compilation of all Mendelssohn’s chamber music for strings and there is much to admire here; especially the beautiful playing of the Mandelring Quartet with guests Gunter Teuffel, violist, and members of the Cremona Quartet.

We get some early works composed when Mendelssohn was but thirteen years old and, in some ways, these are the most interesting things in this set. In the A minor Quartet, Opus 13, for example, there are ample shades of Beethoven and an indication of a budding genius. We also get some very different and later works, such as the Quartet in F minor, Opus 80 in which the composer is clearly reflecting his sadness over the loss of his sister, Fanny. The very helpful booklet notes within this set point out that, ironically and sadly, Mendelssohn, himself, would die of a sudden stroke but a few months after writing this work at the all too young age of thirty-eight.

I also appreciate the inclusion of the E flat major Octet written in 1825 by the sixteen-year-old composer. This work was considered pretty ‘cheeky’ at the time for both its unusual ‘double quartet’ configuration as well as its length of over thirty minutes. Similarly, we get his two Quintets, which use two violas; the first from 1826 and the second, in the scarce key if B-flat major, from nearly twenty years later.

I think that string players and quartet members in particular will love this well-played and quite comprehensive set. I also feel that those who are big admirers of Mendelssohn’s music will definitely want to have this. I am not a member of those circles and, yet, I do enjoy Mendelssohn and I enjoyed this admirable collection. The sound quality is terrific and – at nearly five hours of combined listening – the price is quite the bargain as well.

—Daniel Coombs