Alberni String Quartet

Schumann: String Quartets, Op. 41 Nos. 1-3; Mendelssohn: String Quartet in A minor, Op. 13

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The liner notes of this CRD album make the assertion that Mendelssohn is not typically thought of as a chamber music composer. This seems now to be backwards, as the string quartets of Robert Schumann, of which the three quartets of Op. 41 appear on this album, are much less frequently performed and recorded that any of Mendelssohn's works in the genre. Schumann's Op. 41 came on the heels of his first symphony and after a long, successful string of works for piano and voice. The growth in the composer's writing heard across these quartets is rather stunning; the first two pay clear homage to Bach and Beethoven, with heavy use of counterpoint and motivic writing. By the third quartet, Schumann had found his own much more lyrical, contemplative voice. Still, these quartets are somewhat enigmatic for listeners and performers alike, and listless performances can quickly fall flat. Heard on this album with several personnel changes from quartet to quartet, the Alberni String Quartet has no trouble finding the energy or enthusiasm to bring these works to life. They are at their best in the short, staccato playing found in the scherzos and the contrapuntal finale of the first quartet. Longer, sustained passages, such as the First Quartet Adagio and much of the third quartet, reveals some technical shortcomings such as an overly wide vibrato from the first violin and occasional intonation difficulties. The disc also includes Mendelssohn's A minor quartet; the comparison between Mendelssohn and Schumann quickly shows the former to be a master of form though perhaps less of a risk taker than the latter.

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