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Thursday, March 16, 2017

Felix Mendelssohn - String Quartet No. 1; String Quintet No. 1 (Pražák Quartet; Zemlinsky Quartet)



Composer: Felix Mendelssohn
  1. String Quartet No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 12: I. Adagio non troppo - Allegro non tardante
  2. String Quartet No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 12: II. Canzonetta (Allegretto) - Più mosso
  3. String Quartet No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 12: III. Andante espressivo
  4. String Quartet No. 1 in E flat major, Op. 12: IV. Molto allegro e vivace
  5. String Quintet No. 1 in A major, Op. 18: I. Allegro con moto
  6. String Quintet No. 1 in A major, Op. 18: II. Intermezzo. Andante sostenuto
  7. String Quintet No. 1 in A major, Op. 18: III. Scherzo. Allegro di molto
  8. String Quintet No. 1 in A major, Op. 18: IV. Allegro vivace
  9. Minuetto in F sharp minor, Op. 18a

Pražák Quartet (1-4)
Václav Remeš, violin
Vlastimil Holek, violin
Josef Klusoň, viola (1-9)
Michal Kaňka, cello

Zemlinsky Quartet (5-9)
František Souček, violin
Petr Střížek, violin
Petr Holman, viola
Vladimír Fortin, cello

Date: 2009
Label: Praga



Warm and attentive readings of Mendelssohn’s early chamber works

Mendelssohn’s obsession with Beethoven is clear from the very outset of his First Quartet, with an opening that breathes the air of the late quartets (Beethoven had died just two years earlier). But then Mendelssohn-the-young-man takes over, presenting a theme with a hop, skip and a jump in its step. This is a warm and attentive performance by the Prazák Quartet, whose long experience is evident from their instinctive dialogue and the sense that they know every corner of this music. It’s an altogether convivial experience, and that goes for the remainder of the movements too. Particularly effective is the faster central section of the Canzonetta, which is devilishly difficult but absolutely under control here, and full of detail. Their sustained slow movement, too, is an essay in tenderness. This is a fine reading, though if you want something rawer, with a greater emphasis on Mendelssohn’s innovative qualities, you may prefer the Quatuor Mosaïques.

The Zemlinsky Quartet are younger members of the same great Czech string quartet tradition (perhaps wisely relinquishing their original name: the Penguin Quartet). They borrow the Prazák’s viola-player for Mendelssohn’s First Quintet. There’s a historical reasoning behind this coupling: the first performance of Op 12 was a private one, given by friends. A week later they swelled their ranks to give the first performance of the final version of the Quintet. This was a work that long occupied him, and at one point it had an unusually dark minuet, which is appended at the end of this disc. Though it makes an intriguing addition, with its air of quiet desperation, Mendelssohn’s instincts were right – it would have sat oddly within the quintet.

The players revel in the unorthodox aspects of the writing, the slipping, sliding melody that opens the finale, the casual little ornaments with which Mendelssohn strews his melodic lines, the rhetoric of the slow movement. The Mendelssohn Quartet with Robert Mann are a tad faster in the opening movement, which is very effective, and perhaps they reveal better the music’s inner counterpoint, but overall this is a welcome addition to the catalogue.

-- Harriet Smith, Gramophone

More review:


Felix Mendelssohn (3 February 1809 – 4 November 1847) was a German composer, pianist, organist and conductor of the early Romantic period. He was among the most popular composers of the Romantic era. Like Mozart, he was recognized early as a musical prodigy. Mendelssohn enjoyed early success in Germany, where he also revived interest in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, and in his travels throughout Europe. He was particularly well received in Britain as a composer, conductor and soloist, visited there ten times. His essentially conservative musical tastes, however, set him apart from many of his more adventurous musical contemporaries.


Pražák Quartet is a Czech string quartet established in 1972. It is one of the Czech Republic's premiere chamber ensembles. It was founded while its members were still students at Prague Conservatory (1974-1978). The quartet was awarded First Prize at the Evian International Competition in 1978 and the Prague Spring Festival Prize in 1979. The Prazak Quartet has made more than 60 recordings during its long history, including some of the most important works in the string quartet and chamber music literature. They record for Praga Digitals.


Zemlinsky Quartet, founded in 1994 while the members were still students, has become a much lauded example of the Czech string quartet tradition. They studied with Walter Levin (1st violinist of LaSalle Quartet) and Josef Klusoň (violist of Pražák Quartet). The quartet won the First Grand Prize at the Bordeaux International String Quartet Competition in 2010. Their vast repertoire contains more than 200 works ranging from Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and Dvorak to works by contemporary composers. Since 2007, the Zemlinsky Quartet has recorded exclusively for the French record label Praga Digitals.


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