Mendelssohn: Quintet for Strings No. 1 in A Major,
Op. 18 Quintet for Strings No. 2 in B-Flat Major, Op. 87
Sony Classical SK 60766
L'Archibudelli, the Sony website informs me, is an Italian word difficult to translate into English but carrying the approximate sense of "bows and guts." The group is made up of a nucleus of three musicians, Vera Beths, Jurgen Kussmaul, and Anner Bylsma, who are joined by others as required. In this case, the required others are Lucy Van Dael, and Guus Jeukendrup.
Mendelssohn's two string quintets were written years apart, though exactly how many years is not easy to state simply. While the second was composed entirely in June of 1845, the Opus 18 appeared in its first incarnation in 1826 (when Mendlelssohn was seventeen or eighteen), but underwent major revision - including the elimination and replacement of one movement, and the reversal of the sequence of the middle two - during the next six years. Despite the time interval between the works, we don't find the kind of marked change of style that occurs, for example, between Haydn's early quartets and his magnificent Opus 76, or between Beethoven's middle and late quartets.
In general, I am not fond of period instruments (or modern reproductions of same), but the playing on this disk is good enough to overcome my prejudice, no easy task. Although some of the scrapy string sound associated with original instrument performances is there, there is also great clarity of line and excellent intonation; above all, it was the sheer musicality and emotional expressiveness of the performance that finally won me over. A good portion of the program notes is devoted to stressing Mendelssohn's emphasis on musical feeling, and it seems that the musicians have taken the lesson to heart; the playing is lucid and eloquent throughout, but never overemotional.
Nothing in the engineering of this disk stands in the way of full enjoyment of the music.
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