MENDELSSOHN: String Quartet Op. 13; String Quintet Op. 87; Fuga – Kocian Quartet/ Josef Kluson, viola – Praga Digitals

by | Jan 4, 2010 | SACD & Other Hi-Res Reviews | 0 comments

MENDELSSOHN: String Quartet Op. 13; String Quintet Op. 87; Fuga – Kocian Quartet/ Josef Kluson, viola – Praga Digitals Multichannel SACD PRD/DSD 250258, 62:55 **** [Distr. by Harmonia mundi]:

Mendelssohn composed his chamber music under the shadow of Beethoven’s masterful string quartets. With the death of the older composer in 1827, the eighteen-year-old Mendelssohn began an intense examination of Beethoven’s astonishing final quartets. Overwhelmed by their deeply personal expressiveness and strange unearthly beauty, the young composer fashioned his String Quartet in A minor, Op.13 while deeply enthralled by Beethoven’s brilliant Op.132 string quartet in the same key.

There is some similarity between the two works. Both have a spare angular beauty that often borders on anguish. Both works feature lean textures and an autumnal lyricism that presages Brahms. Mendelssohn’s quartet has a facile grace that serves as a reminder that, however masterful the work, it is written by a young man still in his teens who is incapable of Beethoven’s mature heart-rending pathos. The Kocian Quartet emphasizes the quartet’s surface sheen and well-polished beauty without plunging into the deeper waters that flow just below the surface. The Emerson Quartet in their recording of the work for DGG tapped its emotional unease and precocious profundity with greater success. Nevertheless, this is a lovely performance with a touching simplicity at its core.

The String Quintet No. 2 in B flat major, Op. 87 composed in 1845, has a symphonic breadth and grandness of utterance that is enhanced by Mendelssohn’s use of two violas. The quintet’s deeper register lends a solidity and depth to the work that highlights the lyricism of the violins which seem to float effortlessly above the proceedings. The quintet has a sweeping Brahmsian grandeur coupled with Mendelssohn’s electrifying melodic gift. The first three movements reveal an older more mature composer whose prodigious skill has been tempered by experience. It is the final movement that is problematic. Mendelssohn was never pleased with its perfunctory nature and resolved to compose a new finale but his tragically early death intervened. The Kocian Quartet with Josef Kluson on second viola plays the work with strength and deep intelligence. The quintet’s often knotty counterpoint and tightly coiled melodies are negotiated with skill in a performance of memorable beauty.

The Praga Digitals engineers have produced a recording of exceptional clarity and lean transparent textures. The multi-channel DSD sound is warm with an emphasis on the midrange. The soundstage is wide and deep with a hint of reverb giving the strings a lovely bloom.

— Mike Birman

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