MENDELSSOHN String Quartets Nos 3 & 5
Any quartet that wins a Grammy for a disc of Ligeti quartets gets my attention, and the Boston-based Parker Quartet prove equally compelling in Mendelssohn, refreshingly choosing two quartets from the still-underrated Op 44 set. Earlier this year, I was particularly taken with the Cecilia’s pairing of the first and second quartets of the set and this new disc is every bit as striking.
The opening movement of Op 44 No 1 has just the right sense of unfettered exultation, with plenty of warmth without any loss of clarity. Throughout, you’re aware of characterful individual contributions within an impeccable ensemble. The Parker are a degree gentler than the Cecilia in this movement, while in the Menuetto they lovingly entwine themselves around Mendelssohn’s mellifluous lines. In the slow third movement the Parker are utterly poetic, the first violin a degree more restrained in terms of vibrato than the Cecilia’s, while the touches of rubato are unerringly judged. The Leipzig are also very fine here, giving the melody an almost folky narrative. The Parker take the joyous Presto a degree faster than the Cecilia, yet never sound breathless, compared to which the tangily characteristic period-instrument Eroica tread a middle ground.
They capture the very different character of Op 44 No 3 equally vividly, relishing the harmonic crunches that spice the first movement. By comparison, the Mandelring are just a touch less subtle in their musical conversation. Throughout, the Parker’s reactivity makes for the most engaging music-making, be it in the slow movement or the scherzo, where they balance drive and play. The immediacy of the Parker’s playing is matched by the immediacy of sound and altogether this is a delectable addition to the Mendelssohn quartet discography.