Mendelssohn; Mozart; Schubert String Quartets
Two years ago the Elias bounded into my musical consciousness with a sensational disc of Mendelssohn quartets. Here was an ensemble not in thrall to streamlining to the nth degree, with four personalities still apparent, yet playing with complete unanimity of purpose – a kind of quartet version of the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Their second disc, caught on the wing at Wigmore Hall at the end of last year, also offers many delights; and the audience is presumably captivated, as it’s remarkably silent.
Along with Mendelssohn, Schubert is clearly another great love of the Elias, and in the Quartettsatz they revel in the Viennese charm, an aspect that can sometimes get lost in the sheer drive of some interpretations, and find time to grow the phrases quite beautifully. This is a version to stand comparison with the outstanding readings from the febrile Belcea and the highly intense Jerusalem Quartet.
In the Dissonance the Elias have chosen the most overtly dramatic and groundbreaking of Mozart’s quartets, and they relish the emergence of melody from the primeval chromatic swamp. Here there are plentiful examples of their fine musicianship, particularly in the slow movement, where their individuality comes to the fore. As a whole, though, this is not as revelatory as the Hagen’s reading, which reveals the anarchic aspects of the work, the finale in particular, better than any other.
In Mendelssohn’s Fourth Quartet, though, we’re back to the Elias at their very best, Sara Bitlloch’s delectable tone leading the way in the extensive first movement and the piece’s underlying unease never underplayed. The Mendelssohn encore is a delightful bonus.
The Elias is one of the most compelling of the younger generation of quartets, and despite minor reservations about the Mozart, this disc offers much pleasure and much promise of a glittering future.