Fanny MENDELSSOHN and Felix MENDELSSON: String Quartets = Fanny Mendelssohn: Quartet in E-flat Major; Felix Mendelssohn: Quartets in F Minor, Op. 80, in A Minor, Op. 13 – Takacs String Quartet – Hyperion CDA68330 (10/29/21) 75:46 [Distr. PIAS] *****:
The Takacs Quartet (rec. 9-12 November 2020) offers the rare combination of string quartet compositions by Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) and his gifted, if too-often-ignored sister, Fanny Henselt (1805-1847). The latter, herself a recipient of tutelage with esteemed masters such as Carl Friedrich Zelter, Ludwig Berger, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, and Ignaz Moscheles, became a fine pianist and able choral director, conversant with the contrapuntal style of J.S. Bach and the operatic procedures of Christoph Willibald Gluck. Fanny Henselt’s repute as a composer lay in her lieder and piano miniatures, though they hardly define her, given her work in cantata, overture, and assorted chamber music genres. The String Quartet in E-flat Major (1834) stands as a fine testament to her absorption of a Romantic style that had imbibed much of the Beethoven legacy into its expressive syntax.
Henselt’s Quartet in E-flat Majoropens with a broodingAdagio ma non troppoin C Minor, moving in a spirit of free fantasy, a device close to the Beethoven Quartet No. 10, “The Harp.”Iterations from her brother’s overture, Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyageappear, ultimately moving via sonata-form to a resolution in the home key of E-flat. The brief but haunted Scherzoin C Minor enjoys a mystique we know from Weber and her own brother’s fascination with Walpurgis Nacht. The Triomoves into C Major, with a four-beat motto that may nod to Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony. Henselt proceeds to a Romanzein G Minor that allows for some lyrical interplay between first violin Edward Dusinberre and cellist Andras Fejer. Henselt, like her brother has the ability to sustain, in compositional miniatures, that Lied ohne Wrote sensibility that makes her a natural melodist, even if her larger forms cannot bear the weight of extended development. The Rondofinale returns to the key center of E-flat Major, here in a kind of intense, perpetuum mobilethat has Dusinberre in a quasi-concertante role. The interior strings remain busy as well, with a tripping countertheme over a four-note ostinato. The dramatic contour pays homage to late Beethoven, an influence Henselt could never overcome.
The Takacs then address Mendelssohn’s last effort in the string quartet medium, his 1847 Quartet in F Minor, Op. 80,conceived as a requiem for his dead sister, Fanny, who had succumbed to a series of strokes 14 May 1847. The startling first movement, Allegro vivace assai- Presto,indulges in dissonances that often rely on the interval of diminished fourth. The power of Beethoven’s own F Minor “Serioso” Quartet, Op. 95 may be detected in the somber lyricism that evolves. The fierce counterpoints driven mania verily attack our sensibilities, and they persist throughout the entire composition. The ensuing Scherzooffers no respite, but jerks and pulsates forward in the manner of a mad dance that possesses Beethoven’s power to renew its own energy. Sinister syncopes and a cruel chromatic line merge into a totentanzof its own character. The grievous angst of this mortal storm does relent in the A-flat Major Adagio, moving over sad pedal points in wistful reminiscence, music virtually suited to accompany Ophelia’s funeral in Hamlet. This rarified world of song belongs to both brother and sister Mendelssohn, and the music surges forward in openly passionate tropes. The Finale: Allegro molto, asks first violin Dusinberre to once more indulge in manic figurations, a sea of jabbing, aggressive despair that finds few moments of consolation. During the course of these turbulent outbursts, one may detect quick, passing allusions to Mendelssohn’s early Octet,Op. 20 and its singular counterpoints. The coda leaves us dizzy with the anguish of a soul ravished by those “mortal coils” his contrapuntal art captures so effectively.
Mendelssohn’s A Minor Quartet, Op. 13 (1829) relies much on the model of Beethoven, especially the Op. 95 and the A Minor, Op. 132; but Mendelssohn utilizes, besides, his own lieder, “Frage”(“Question,” in ¾), that serves as a melodic kernel for each of the four movements. The Mendelssohn opens with an Adagio – Allegro vivacethat well imitates the motion of Beethoven’s A Minor Quartet, but here infused with the young composer’s subjective version of evolving passions. The Takacs execute the nervous progression of 16thnotes with a decisive and angular drive. The combination of emotional turmoil and suave repose create a dramatic tension that does not abate. The endearing slow movement, Adagio non lento, has violist Richard O’Neill intone a melody in the movement’s middle section – the “Frage” motif now in 2/4 – that becomes a sad fugue, much in the manner of Beethoven’s equivalent in Op. 132. The vocal character of this music by the 18-year-old Mendelssohn bespeaks his familiarity with Beethoven’s Op. 130 cavatinamovement as well. For his third movement, Mendelssohn conceives an Intermezzo: Allegretto con moto – Allegro di molto, a sectionalized piece that at first plays like a stylized gavotte, and then it breaks off into that faery realm that so often marks the composer of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The transparent delicacy of the upper voices finds a warm support in Fejer’s cello. Violin Dusinberre opens the last movement, Presto – Adagio non lento, with an intense recitative taken directly from Beethoven’s Op. 132 model. The accompanying tremolandos of the supporting strings make for a surging, passionate outburst. We may well recall Beethoven’s “holy song of thanks” that occupies his third movement, since Mendelssohn passes beyond his youthful sense of crisis to move through contrapuntal dance figures to a lyric outpouring sung by first violin Dusinberre. He and supporting cast offer a security that love alone provides, the restful answer to the issues posed by his original song that questions the reliability of devotion.