Finally, Mendelssohn's string quartets are hitting the big time. Over the past decade, there have been more and, for the most part, better recordings of his quartets that at any time in history. Think of the Alban Berg Quartet's brilliantly bracing recording or the Quatuor Mosaïques' fervently soulful recording. Of course, there have also been some fairly mediocre recordings – think of the Emerson's recklessly energetic recording – and merely passable recordings – think of the Henschel's hastily enthusiastic recording.
Cellist David Watkin, formerly of the Eroica Quartet, joins the Tokyos in this distinguished reading of Schubert’s 'Quintet in C' - the last and perhaps the most haunting of all his chamber works, in which light and shadow, serenity and drama are presented in constant alternation. The programme also includes the 'Quartettsatz' of 1820 with its fragmentary slow movement.
Like Gilels, Brendel treats the Op. 35 Variations as far more than a poor relation of the Eroica Symphony finale. His approach has less of the urgent, seemingly improvisatory thrust which makes the Gilels DG performance (on LP only) so compelling, but the sharpness with which he characterizes each variation is a delight, each time bringing a moment of revelation, and often relating this essentially middle-period work to much later inspirations. The six Bagatelles of Op. 126 equally find Brendel giving these fragments a weight, concentration and seriousness to reflect what else Beethoven was writing at the time. There is a gruffness of expression with charm eliminated. The third Bagatelle is the more moving for its simple gravity, and only in the final one of the group does Brendel allow himself to relax in persuasive warmth. Fur Elise makes a simple, haunting prelude to the group and the six Ecossaises a jolly postude with Brendel evoking the bluff jollity of Austrian dance music.
The Aeolian Quartet's epic cycle, originally released in the Seventies, was one of the gramophone's major contributions to Haydn's cause. Listening to the performances anew I find they have lost none of their freshness: they were based on the latest research, and the playing itself is always intelligent and thoughtful, with Emanuel Hurwitz's sweet-toned violin-playing a great asset throughout. (Misha Donat)