Quatuor Arod

Mendelssohn: Quartets, Op. 13, 44 No. 2; 4 Pieces; Frage, Op. 99

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France's Quatuor Arod has made something of a specialty of Mendelssohn since coming on the scene in 2013, and the result is an unusual group of Mendelssohn string quartet performances, diverging from both German and English models. The members of the quartet have said that they see these works as intimate, reflective of the composer's life, and that's how they play them: with intensity, passion, power, and a good deal of speed laid on in the outer movements. Start your sampling with the String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13, where the Arod could not diverge more strongly from existing interpretations. In their reading, the model for this A minor quartet is the vast late one of Beethoven, the String Quartet No. 15 in A minor, Op. 132. Mendelssohn's attitude toward Beethoven might be regarded as a lifelong effort to understand his accomplishment: largely unsuccessful, but no less interesting for that. Mendelssohn had no answer for Beethoven's vast, modal slow movement, but the outer movements, with the opening movement's slow introduction and innovatively treated operatic first-movement, first-violin melodies reveal all kinds of traces of Beethoven in the Arod's hands. The String Quartet in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2, likewise refers back to Beethoven, this time to the second "Rasumovsky" quartet, the String Quartet No. 8 in E minor, Op. 59, No. 2, and here Mendelssohn comes closer to his taut, tumultuous model in the Arod's gripping performance. The interest level drops a bit at the end of the program, with the rarely recorded set of string quartet pieces, Op. 81, and a song arranged for voice and string quartet (not a bad idea in itself, but not coherent with the high-mindedness of the rest of the program). Yet this is a very strong outing for the Quatuor Arod, a natural with the members' charismatic looks for the Erato label and its partnership with Warner Classics. One looks forward to music by Beethoven himself from this young group.

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