Felix Mendelssohn

String Quartet No. 4 in E minor, Op.44/2

    Description by Blair Johnston

    Heard right after the vibrant D major Quartet, Op. 44, No. 1, Felix Mendelssohn's String Quartet No. 4 in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2 (which was actually composed many months before Op. 44, No. 1, but who's counting?), seems wonderfully tense and urgent. It was a success when Ferdinand David and his quartet premiered it on October 28, 1837, four months after Mendelssohn finished it but two years still before it was published, and its popularity with string players student, amateur, and professional is probably at this point second to none other of Mendelssohn's six quartets -- and justly so, though picking the best apple from a lot as fine as the three Opus 44 pieces is not a happy task!

    The E minor Quartet, is, like its two Op. 44 companions, in four movements. Few composers would have been able to blend vagary with affirmed, solid tunefulness as disarmingly, as seamlessly as Mendelssohn managed at the start of the opening Allegro assai appassionato movement -- indeed, one hardly stops to think that the quiet, misty syncopations of the second violin and viola should probably want nothing whatever to do with the first violin's firm-spined, arch-shaped thought. Concord among the four instruments is achieved only with the arrival of cascades of eighths and sixteenths and the subsequent dissolution of the same into a pianissimo, heartwarming, parallel sixth-filled second subject in G major. When all is nearly said and done at the end of the movement, this second tune makes a bid to close the movement, but is overruled by the first subject and some wonderful imitative diminutions thereof.

    Whereas the second movement of Op. 44, No. 1 was a minuet, here it is a true scherzo -- though not, admittedly, of the hot-headed type that Beethoven made famous; rather, of the quietly shimmering type that Mendelssohn loved. The Andante third movement might be thought of as a song without words in G major, melody offered to the first violin (and, for a little while during the middle of the piece, the cello) as the inner voices spin tenderly around each other.

    The fourth and final movement is marked Presto agitato; with the twinkle of an eye and a twitch of his pen, Mendelssohn moves into and out of shards of music that sound like leftovers from the scherzo, proving that the formulae of sonata allegro form can still be used to make magic.

    Parts/Movements

    1. Allegro assai appasionato
    2. Scherzo. Allegro di molto
    3. Andante
    4. Presto agitato

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Erato 564131
    2017 Erato 0190295761127
    2016 Deutsche Grammophon 4795982
    2015 Audite AUDITE 21436
    2015 Analekta AN 29844
    2015 BIS BIS 1960
    2014 Champs Hill Records CHRCD 085
    2014 La Dolce Volta LDV 280
    2013 La Dolce Volta LDV 1157
    2013 Meridian Records CDE 84618
    2012 Audite AUDITE 92657
    2012 Acanta 233596
    2011 MSR Classics MS 1386
    2010 NCA 60178
    2010 Praga 250267
    2009 NCA 60205
    2009 Sony Music Entertainment 88697420722
    2009 Brilliant Classics 93888
    2008 Naxos 8570001
    2008 Arte Nova Classics 82876640092
    2008 Brilliant Classics 93672
    2007 EMI Classics 00857
    2007 Calliope 5302
    2005 Arts Music 47130
    2005 Arte Nova Classics 82876608482
    2005 Arte Nova 608480
    2005 Profil - Edition Günter Hänssler PH04091
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon 000388802
    2005 Deutsche Grammophon
    2004 Calliope 3311/3
    2004 EMI Music Distribution 85805
    2004 Brilliant 92393
    2003 Brilliant 99983
    2003 Decca
    2003 Decca 473255
    2003 EMI Music Distribution 585294-2
    2002 Harmonia Mundi 907287
    2001 Calliope 9302
    1997 Chandos 9555
    1994 Hyperion 44051/3
    1994 Naxos 550862
    1992 Hyperion 66579
    Accord 200672
    Accord 201132
    MDG 3071168
    Brilliant 92393/19
    Brilliant Classics 93672/19
    London 440369
    Meridian Records 84152
    Cedille Records 82