Mendelssohn: String Quartet No. 2 in A minor (CD review)

Also, Theme and Variations, Scherzo, Capriccio, Fugue; Schubert: Quartet Movement in C minor, D703. Quartetto di Roma. La Bottega Discantica 225.

One cannot judge any group of performers merely on how precisely they play together or even on how virtuosic they can be; one must also take into account how expressively they respond to one another, how well the separate voices combine and interact. In all of these regards, the Quartetto di Roma, founded in 1995, succeed well. The group’s members--Marco Fiorini and Biancamaria Rapaccini, violins; Davide Toso, viola; and Alessandra Montani, cello--say their desire is to continue the distinguished Italian quartet tradition.

The players begin the album with Felix Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 13, which the composer wrote in his youth, beginning it around 1827 and completing it in 1832. He said he wrote it in tribute to the death of Beethoven and based it on a song he had recently written. The Quartet No. 2 may be an early work, but it is mature in tone, and the Quartetto perform it with a warm, easygoing grace.

The first movement comes off as particularly captivating in the Quartetto’s hands, lyrical and flowing. They handle the slow, second-movement Adagio non lento, eloquently. The Intermezzo seems appropriately serious though not quite as cheery or as folklike as I’ve heard it done. And the Presto finale strikes me as appropriately melodic, intense, and serene.

The interaction among the Quartettto di Roma members appears cultivated by years of association and offers the listener a polished, harmonious presentation. Their playing sounds relaxed in a cultured, civilized manner, making for easy and obviously pleasurable listening.

By coincidence, not long before my listening to the present album, I listened to and reviewed another recent recording of Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 2, one by Quatuor Ebene on Virgin Classics. I won’t try to play favorites here or steer you to one or the other disc, but I will say the two performances are somewhat different in style and sound. The Quartetto di Roma appear smoother and more refined, Quatuor Ebene more robust and individualistic, with a tad cleaner recording. Which rendition you prefer may depend on what mood you’re in.

Filling out the Quartetto di Roma disc are several more, shorter chamber pieces by Mendelssohn and the single-movement Quartet in C minor by Franz Schubert. Mendelssohn’s Theme and Variations, Scherzo, Capriccio, and Fugue date from a period spanning about twenty years, but Mendelssohn’s publisher collected and released them under the single opus number 81. They are all delightful, of course, especially the unfinished Schubert movement and the Scherzo with its similarities to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, yet I would have preferred another single, longer work instead, another quartet perhaps. As it is, the disc contains less than an hour of music.

Discantica chose to record the music in 2009 at the Church of San Sebastiano al Palatino, originally a tenth-century basilica dedicated to Saint Sebastian, rebuilt in the seventeenth century and located on Rome’s Palatine Hill. It’s obviously a place with much history, and it makes a fairly good recording location for the chamber music of Mendelssohn and Schubert. There’s a mild reverberation present but never so much as to cloud or veil the sound too seriously. Mostly, the venue imparts a sweet warmth to the occasion, a pleasing resonance. The miking is relatively close, so the instruments loom somewhat large, and the group does tend to spread out across the room. While it’s not as realistic or as transparent as I’d like, the recording provides a big, impressive sonic picture.

To hear a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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Meet the Staff

Meet the Staff
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer

For more than 20 years I was the editor ofThe $ensible Soundmagazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me -- point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.

For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, I should probably point out that I do a LOT of music listening and employ a variety of means to do so in a variety of environments, as I would imagine many music lovers also do. Starting at the more grandiose end of the scale, the system in which I do my most serious listening comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio StreamLine preamplifier, Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer. I also do a lot of listening while driving in my 2016 Acura RDX with its nice-sounding ELS Studio sound system through which I play CDs (the ones I especially like I rip to the Acura's hard drive so that I can listen to them whenever I want) or stream music through the system using my LG G7 ThinQ cell phone, which features surprisingly sophisticated audio circuitry. For more casual listening at home when I am not in my listening room, I often stream music through the phone into a Vizio soundbar system that has remarkably nice sound for such a diminutive physical presence. And finally, at the least grandiose end of the scale, I have an Ultimate Ears Wonderboom Bluetooth speaker for those occasions where I am somewhere by myself without a sound system but in desperate need of a musical fix. I just can't imagine life without music and I am humbly grateful for the technology that enables us to enjoy it in so many wonderful ways.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst

I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.

Visitors that view my technical papers on this site may wonder why they appear here, rather than on a site that features audio equipment reviews. My reason is that I tried the latter, and prefer to publish for people who actually want to listen to music; not to equipment. My focus is in describing what's technically beneficial to assure that the sound of the system will accurately replicate the source input signal (i. e. exhibit high accuracy) without inordinate cost and complexity. Conversely, most of the audiophiles of today strive to achieve sound that's euphonic, i.e. be personally satisfying. In essence, audiophiles seek sound that's consistent with their desire; the music is simply a test signal.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa