MENDELSSOHN: Piano Quartets Nos. 1-3. Piano Quartet in D min., MWV Q 10 / Quartetto Klimt: Duccio Ceccanti, vln; Edoardo Rosadini, vla; Alice Gabbiani, cel; Matteo Fossi, pno / Brilliant Classics BC95532
Despite their being named after a German artist, Quartetto Klimt is an Italian group, founded in 1995. Here they perform very early Mendelssohn; in fact, the numbered piano quartets bear his Opus numbers 1 to 3, while the fourth is an even earlier, unnumbered work. We are thus faced with a very young Mendelssohn, probably aged 12 at the oldest, writing in a style which leans heavily on Mozart, his early idol.
And yet, there are decided differences in style. The first piano quartet, in C minor, has some distinctly non-Mozartean elements in it, particularly the roiling piano accompaniment that runs through chromatic passages that Mozart would surely have avoided or simplified. I guess the point I am making is that although this is not quite as good as mature Mendelssohn, when compared to virtually any other composer of this time except Beethoven—who was also one of his influences—it is a remarkable piece. Not only does it have an excellent structure, it also shows a fertile imagination, a bit of risk-taking that was scarcely common in his time.
My assessment of Quartetto Klimt’s playing style is that it is gentle and lyrical, at least in these pieces. Yes, they follow the composer’s dynamics markings and inflect the music with some energy, but it is not in the common chamber music style of today in which phrases are given very strong rhythmic accents. You might say, then, that this is a very German reading of these scores by these Italian musicians. And at times, their approach works wonders on the music, particularly in the slow movements. The slow movement of the first, for instance, creates a feeling of mystery where Mendelssohn slides between keys with impunity. Perhaps the highest compliment I can pay this music, and their performance of it, is to say that they make it sound like one of Beethoven’s own early chamber pieces. The music flows rather than progressing in a very linear fashion, and I’m not so sure that this isn’t how early Mendelssohn of this vintage should ideally sound.
And yet, I found the second quartet to be not quite as good as the first. Could this have been a case like the Beethoven Piano Concerti, where he actually wrote No. 1 second but published it as his first because the second was a bit weaker? It’s not bad music, but it’s clearly less inspired than the first except for the last movement. The third quartet is an improvement over the second, and in fact a bit better than the first. The last movement is particularly interesting with its edgy string tremolos and lurching melodic line.
The unnumbered piano quartet is also an interesting work; like the other three, it is written in a minor key. The seated eighth-note figures in the piano’s bass remind one again of early Beethoven rather than Mozart.
This is a fine set of these four early works by Mendelssohn. I recommend it.
—© 2020 Lynn René Bayley
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