Felix Mendelssohn

String Quartet No. 5 in E flat major, Op.44/3

    Description by Blair Johnston

    There is the gregarious D major Quartet, Op. 44, No. 1, and there is the much-talked-about E minor Quartet, Op. 44, No. 2. The String Quartet No. 5 in E flat major, Op. 44, No. 3, might sometimes seem like the odd man out, but there is no need to worry on its account; for, while Mendelssohn is unlike other top-billing composers in that the majority of his works are not standard repertoire fare, this quartet has been standard fare, at least since the revival of interest in Mendelssohn quartets during the mid-twentieth century. The E flat major Quartet was composed in late 1837 and early 1838 (February 6, 1838, is the official date of completion, as duly noted by Mendelssohn on the manuscript), after Op. 44, No. 2, but before Op. 44, No. 1, and was first played -- as usual, by Ferdinand David and friends -- on April 3, 1838. Mendelssohn tinkered with some of the notational details a bit, and it was printed in the early summer of 1839.

    Sonata-allegro -- scherzo -- slow movement -- finale is once again the layout selected by Mendelssohn for the quartet (the same blueprint was used for the other Op. 44 pieces), and once again Mendelssohn opts not to preface the quick first movement with a slow introduction, as he had done in his first two string quartets (Opp. 12 and 13). Listen, in the opening Allegro vivace, to the way that Mendelssohn allows the players to take the initial four-note pickup idea and toss it about among themselves -- here in imitation, here by string multiple copies of it together, back-to-back -- as the movement unfolds. Set against this always forward-looking idea are stalwart dotted figures that do their best to keep the apparently boundless kinetic energy of the pickup figure in check, but do not always succeed.

    The scherzo (Assai leggiero e vivace) is a particularly nimble example of its breed, even by Mendelssohn's standards. Only at the very end do the constant 6/8 time eighth notes stack up in all four parts into a thick, juicy climax; the rest of the time they are shared throughout the ensemble with remarkable equanimity (though, not surprisingly, the first violinist has a little bit of an edge).

    Mendelssohn may have been an aristocratic pseudo-traditionalist, but he certainly knew a good dissonance when he heard one -- and there is a delightful one at the very opening of the A flat major Adagio non troppo, a use of simultaneous chromatic inflections, repeated each time the main melody is begun afresh. By contrast, the Molto allegro con fuoco (and he means it!) is a whizz-bang finale that expects a great deal from the first violinist's fingers.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro vivace
    2. Scherzo. Assai leggiero vivace
    3. Adagio non troppo
    4. Molto allegro con fuoco

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2018 Chandos CHAN 201222
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795982
    2016 BIS BIS 2160
    2016 Nimbus Alliance NI 6327
    2015 Audite AUDITE 21436
    2014 Champs Hill Records CHRCD 085
    2014 La Dolce Volta LDV 280
    2013 Audite AUDITE 92658
    2013 La Dolce Volta LDV 1157
    2012 Acanta 233596
    2012 MDG MDG 3451766
    2010 Praga 250269
    2009 NCA 60205
    2009 Naxos 8570002
    2009 Sony Music Entertainment 88697420722
    2009 Brilliant Classics 93888
    2008 Arte Nova Classics 82876640092
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93672
    2007 EMI Classics 00857
    2007 Calliope 5302
    2005 Arte Nova 577440
    2005 Arts Music 47130
    2005 EMI Classics 86104
    2005 Harmonia Mundi 907288
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 000388802
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon
    2004 Calliope 3311/3
    2004 Brilliant 92393
    2003 Brilliant 99983
    2003 Decca 473255
    2003 Decca
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 585294-2
    2001 Calliope 9302
    1994 Hyperion 44051/3
    1994 Naxos 550863
    1993 Hyperion 66615
    Accord 201132
    MDG 3071056
    Accord 200682
    Brilliant Classics 93672/19
    Brilliant 92393/19
    Meridian Records 84152
    Cedille Records 82