Bartholdy Quartett

Mendelssohn: Complete Works for String Quartet

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In order to understand Mendelssohn, the first thing you have to remember is that for a third of his compositional life -- that is, until he was 20 -- Mendelssohn was a contemporary of Beethoven and Schubert. Take his string quartets: of his seven four-movement quartets, three were written while Beethoven and Schubert were still alive. Indeed, Mendelssohn's A minor Quartet of 1827 followed Beethoven's in A minor by only two years. Of the later four, they continue the same line of brilliantly written, passionately lyrical, and dramatically shaped quartets. One could make the argument that Mendelssohn's quartets were central to his achievement, the works that revealed his musical gifts in their clearest incarnation. That is, in effect, the argument the Bartholdy Quartett makes in this three-disc set of Mendelssohn's complete works for string quartet and makes it very persuasively. While its tone is on occasion a bit rough, it's only because the players are so deeply committed to the music that they sometimes cannot restrain their enthusiasm. Otherwise, their performances are near ideal. Their intense concentration, ardent interpretations, and virtuoso ensemble make a powerful case for the aesthetic equality of Mendelssohn quartets with Schubert's and perhaps even Beethoven's. Because, in order to understand Mendelssohn, the second thing you have to remember is that Mendelssohn died at 38, 19 years short of Beethoven's death at 57. Who knows how he might have grown and deepened had he lived to the same age as Beethoven and died in 1866, four years after the premiere of Wagner's Tristan? Arts' sound is close, warm, and every so slightly bass heavy.

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