Review By Phil Muse,Audio Video Club of Atlanta,July 2010
The New Zealand String quartet, consisting of Helene Pohl, violin I, Douglas Beilman, violin II, Gillian Ansell, viola, and Rolf Gjelsten, cello, here conclude their excellent Mendelssohn cycle. Included are Quartet No. 3 in D Major, Op. 44/1 and the early Quartet in E-flat, Op. ‘0’ plus the two extant movements from his unfinished Op. 81. The performances show the NZSQ in top form, with all the style and zip that Mendelssohn requires. They also have a very professional way of sublimating individual artistry to the needs of the whole. That is very important with this composer especially, for his part writing is very smoothly integrated; even when the first violin takes the lead with a typically delicious opening movement melody, it does not drive the work itself. The
Quartet 3 has always been a Mendelssohn favorite, for reasons soon apparent. There’s a zestful flair to the opening movement, marked Molto allegro vivace (it’s all that, brother). The Scherzo is in the form of a slow, suave Minuet, so relaxed we might take it for the slow movement if we were not mindful of its form and metre. The actual slow movement, marked Andante espressivo con moto, is, well, “expressive,” so much so that it lures us with blandishments until we are almost beyond our depth. The finale, Presto con brio, concludes with all the panache with which the work began.
The two movements from the Opus 81 Quartet that lay unfinished at Mendelssohn’s untimely death at age 38 betray no premonition of that event, which was sudden and unexpected. The Theme & Variations, Op. 81/1 are handled with the utmost naturalness, while the nimble footed Scherzo, Op. 81/2, inevitably recalls A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
The early Opus ‘0’ Quartet is so called because the composer never published it in his lifetime. It shows a grasp of form, harmony, counterpoint, and color well beyond Mendelssohn’s age when he composed it. The jaunty opening movement is succeeded by an Adagio suffused with a gentle melancholy. The very Haydnesque Minuet enfolds a contrasted Trio full of youthful romantic feeling. The finale, a freely handled Fugue, gives further proof that Mendelssohn, at 14, knows what a string quartet is all about. The rest was left to time and life experiences.