Mendelssohn String Quartets, Volume One – Doric String Quartet [Chandos]

4 of 5 stars

String Quartet No.1 in E-flat, Op.12
String Quartet No.5 in E-flat, Op.44/3
String Quartet No.6 in F-minor, Op.80

Doric String Quartet [Alex Redington & Jonathan Stone (violins), Hélène Clément (viola) & John Myerscough (cello)]

Recorded 12-14 December 2017 at Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk, England

Reviewed by: Antony Hodgson

Reviewed: October 2018
CHAN 20122 (2 CDs)
Duration: 87 minutes



Certain characteristics are displayed by the Doric Quartet in its readings of Mendelssohn. In particular, progress towards climactic moments is effected by surging vigorously from absolute quietness to bold statement; these forceful episodes therefore sound dramatic without being overloud. With Mendelssohn, the fiery running accompaniments beneath the lyrical melodies need clarity, therefore the Doric musicians’ measured approach to faster movements is very convincing, a good example being the serious-sounding Allegro molto Finale of Quartet No.6 which is driven forward broadly but excitingly.

I happened to listen to Quartet No.6 first and it made me realise how momentous Mendelssohn could be; even the second movement (called a scherzo by analysts but not by Mendelssohn) is very dark in nature. Again a broad speed is adopted and I like the way in which the gentle, greatly contrasted central section is kept at the same tempo as the opening one. To then hear Quartet No.1 from almost two decades earlier is like moving from the Romantic to the Classical period; Schubert was still alive when the twenty-year-old Mendelssohn began this composition. The thoughtful slow introduction, in which a touch of Doric portamento is very effective, leads to a section quaintly entitled Allegro non tardante and there is then a ‘Canzonetta’ in which the dance-like opening leads not to a Trio but to a rapid note-filled section typical of Mendelssohn’s familiarly delicate Scherzo style. The clarity of the playing here is exemplary as indeed it is in the Andante espressivo. The Finale is certainly dashing in effect with surprising changes of time signature but Mendelssohn’s instruction to retain the same tempo is largely followed (there is one forgivable deviation).

Ten years later Mendelssohn composed Quartet No.5 – mature and dramatic in nature and the Doric musicians takes a powerful view. Tempos are unhurried, particularly in the Scherzo and the Finale – the latter having the challenging marking Molto allegro con fuoco. As in the equivalent movement of No.6 the players provide fiery music-making which is achieved without the need to rush. This is a traditionally-shaped work with the conventional exposition repeat in the opening movement followed by a delicate second. The Adagio is very touching and in his expressive presentation of the melodies Alex Redington enhances their passionate drama with the use of a touch more vibrato than he chooses to employ elsewhere. In all, the Doric Quartet takes Mendelssohn seriously – a convincing view admirably expounded.

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