MENDELSSOHN, FELIX & FANNY String Quartets Op. 13 in A minor, Opus 80 in F minor and Quartet in E flat major. Quatuor Ebene. Erato

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MENDELSSOHN FELIX AND FANNY

1. String Quartet No. 2 Op.13 in A minor - I Adagio - Allegro vivace

2. String Quartet No. 2 Op.13 in A minor - II Adagio non lento

3. String Quartet No. 2 Op.13 in A minor - III Intermezzo : Allegretto con moto

4. String Quartet No. 2 Op.13 in A minor - IV Presto

5. String Quartet in E flat major - I Adagio ma non troppo

6. String Quartet in E flat major - II Allegretto

7. String Quartet in E flat major - III Romanze

8. String Quartet in E flat major - IV Allegro molto vivace

9. String Quartet No. 6 Op.80 in F minor - I Allegro vivace assai

10. String Quartet No. 6 Op.80 in F minor - II Allegro assai

11. String Quartet No. 6 Op.80 in F minor - III Adagio

12. String Quartet No. 6 Op.80 in F minor - IV Finale: Allegro molto

Quatuor Ebène:

Pierre Colombet, violin

Gabriel Le Magadure, violin

Mathieu Herzog, viola

Raphaël Merlin, cello

The Quatuor Ebène turns to Mendelssohn: two quartets by Felix and one by his elder sister Fanny, who composed over 400 works and who, like her brother, died in 1847. “Felix’s quartets speak with intimacy, but are not devoid of violent, stormy emotion,” says Raphaël Merlin of the Quatuor Ebène. He praises Fanny for composing “with surprising freedom”, saying “we fell in love with her string quartet”.

In a characteristically imaginative stroke of programming, the Quatuor Ebène presents a total of three quartets by two Mendelssohns – Felix and his older sister, Fanny.

Like Felix, Fanny was a highly gifted child, but, as a woman, her life took a different path from his. Felix remained close to her and solicited and respected her opinions on his music. She, meanwhile, produced a canon of well over 400 pieces – although only one string quartet; by contrast, Felix composed seven works in the genre, one of them a youthful work that carries no opus number. This disc features the A minor quartet he composed in 1827, very much under the influence of Beethoven, and the F minor quartet of 20 years later, a highly emotional piece, expressive of the grief he felt at Fanny’s death, aged 41, in May 1847. As it turned out, the quartet was to be the last major work he composed: he himself died in November of that year, at the age of just 38.

Raphaël Merlin, cellist of the Quatuor Ebène, has the following to say about this disc and about the relationship between Felix and Fanny:

“Mendelssohn’s music could be described as the fresh side of early Romanticism, just as we could say that Schubert’s is the darker side and Schumann’s the more passionate. All three of these composers build on Beethoven’s great foundations. Having played and recorded Mozart, we felt we could go on to play Mendelssohn, since his music works within similar instrumental parameters but in a different stylistic context. Both Mozart and Mendelssohn were child prodigies who became famous across Europe as musicians, and both brought a human dimension to their creation.

“Even if Felix’s contribution to the history of string quartet is probably not on the level of Haydn, Beethoven or Bartók, he is a master: in the way he expresses joy, in his singing lines and in his eloquence. His quartets are often very impressive and touching, speaking with intimacy, but not devoid of violent, stormy emotion. He was as well acquainted with stringed instruments as Mozart and Haydn, and much more so than pianists like Beethoven or Schumann.

“Mendelssohn's sister Fanny very probably had some responsibility in her brother's artistic development, and we fell in love with her string quartet the first day we read through it. Her music and Felix’s have certain elements in common: the harmonic progressions, the tensions and relaxations, the taste for virtuosity, and the magic of the fast movements – the scherzo of Fanny’s quartet recalls A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the scherzo from Felix’s octet – and a similar expression of tender, sometimes religious sadness.

“Fanny's quartet is deeply moving in its inspiration. Sometimes she shows a kind of harmonic daring that Felix or other famous composers would have avoided. Spending her life as a composer in Felix’s shadow might have caused her to write comparatively little music, but, in a way, she composes with surprising freedom. Admittedly, the ‘finish’ of her compositions is not of the highest quality, but you cannot put a price on beauty of feeling, which is perhaps a trait of an appropriately feminine nature.”

Virgin Classics 4645462

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