Mendelssohn String Quartets , Vol 1
The Henschel Quartet is a strong, well-unified group (three of the four are siblings); its ardent, robust approach suits Mendelssohn, and the lyrical expansiveness of Op 12’s first movement and Andante is sustained in fine style. Christoph Henschel uses fingerings that involve many audible changes of position, as early 19th-century violinists (including Mendelssohn’s friend, Ferdinand David) are known to have done. By the mid-20th century, violin slides had become a no-go area but, performed as stylishly as they are here, they contribute powerfully to the music’s emotional effect. I do miss some of the refinement and variety of tone colour that characterise the Leipzig Quartet’s recording of Op 12; some listeners, however, may prefer the Henschels’ pointed playing of the Canzonetta to the smoother, slightly melancholy Leipzig version.
Refinement is clearly not a priority for the F minor Quartet, Mendelssohn’s last major work, which he composed in Switzerlandin the wake of the sudden death of his sister Fanny. It is uninhibited confessional music, like the two Smetana quartets. Only the Adagio offers some tentative relief from the prevailing bleak, almost desperate mood: this is the least satisfactory part of the Henschels’ interpretation – the many slurred moving parts need a stronger sense of direction. In the other three movements they demonstrate in memorable fashion just how stark and uncompromising the music is. If you think Mendelssohn is rather bland and well mannered, try this!