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Wednesday, March 31, 2021

Fanny Mendelssohn; Emilie Mayer; Maddalena Sirmen - String Quartets (Erato Quartett)


Composer: Fanny Mendelssohn; Emilie Mayer; Maddalena Sirmen
  • (01) F. Mendelssohn - String Quartet in E flat major
  • (05) Mayer - String Quartet in G minor, Op. 14
  • (09) Sirmen - String Quartet No. 2 in B flat major
  • (11) Sirmen - String Quartet No. 3 in G minor

Erato Quartett
Emilie Haudenschild & Attila Adamka, violins
Heinz Haudenschild, viola
Emeric Kostyak, cello

Date: 1999
Label: cpo




We can only speculate about how great a composer Fanny Mendelssohn-Hensel could have become had she been given the opportunity to entirely dedicate herself to composition. As the string quartet recorded here easily proves, her melodic gifts and technical skills were simply astonishing. The free wandering of the first movement, where the beautiful meditative theme is developed in the most imaginative manner, the sparkling Scherzo “à la Felix” (slightly reminiscent of A Midsummer Night’s Dream), the sorrowful, almost tragic Romanze, the virtuoso, joyous, and contrapuntally dazzling Allegro molto vivace: all are masterful achievements. Emilie Mayer (1812-1883) benefited from the freedom denied Fanny Mendelssohn, and kept herself busy composing mostly chamber music and “Charakterstücke” for the piano. Mayer’s G minor quartet is charming and well written, though not as compelling as Fanny’s. Her treatment of the form remains traditional, and the themes have a little air of “déjà vu” (or rather “déjà entendu”). It is nonetheless a fine work well worth discovering.

Going back in time, we’re introduced to another woman-composer, the Venetian Maddalena Laura Lombardini Sirmen. A virtuoso violinist who grew up in one of Venice’s famous “Ospedali” for orphans, Lombardini Sirmen had to become a singer (and leave her husband) in order to make a living as a musician. If both classically-shaped first movements of these two-movement string quartets are nothing special, the final Allegros are just amazing, full of rhythmic life and surprising melodic ideas. Even though it lacks luster and excitement, the Erato Quartett’s playing has enough polish and sensitivity, while the recorded sound offers a fair amount of detail within resonant acoustics. The choice of works deserves a rating of 10, the performances 8. Chamber music lovers won’t want to miss this one.


Fanny Mendelssohn [Hensel] (14 November 1805 – 14 May 1847) was a German pianist and composer, the sister of composer Felix Mendelssohn. Fanny showed prodigious musical ability as a child, but was limited by prevailing attitudes of the time toward women. She still composed over 460 pieces of music, include a piano trio and several books of solo piano pieces and songs. A number of her songs were originally published under his brother's name. In recent years, her music has become better known thanks to concert performances and a number of CDs being released on labels such as Hyperion and CPO.


Emilie Mayer (14 May 1812 – 10 April 1883) was a German composer of Romantic music. Mayer began her serious compositional study relatively late in life. In 1841, she started to study composition with Carl Loewe in Stettin (now Szczecin, Poland), and in 1847 moved to Berlin to continue her studies with Adolph Bernhard Marx and Wilhelm Wieprecht. Mayer's music was initially influenced by the Vienna classic style, whilst her later works were more Romantic. She was a prolific composer, producing some 8 symphonies and at least 15 concert overtures, plus numerous chamber works and lieder.


Maddalena Sirmen (9 December 1745 – 18 May 1818) was an Italian composer, violinist and singer. Born Maddalena Lombardini in Venice, she began her studies at the San Lazzaro dei Mendicanti and occasionally studied with Giuseppe Tartini. At age twenty-one, Lombardini received her maestro license at the orphanage, and was given permission to pursue a musical career outside of Venice. In 1767 she married the renowned violinist Ludovico Sirmen. The two toured together to Paris and London, where Maddalena established her reputation as one of the finest violinists and composers ever taught in a Venetian orphanage.


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