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:

JJP

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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

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.

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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.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa