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Penguin Guide, January 2009

The New Zealand Quartet’s performances are very compelling indeed, distinctly looking forward to Beethoven in their urgency and strength. However, they don’t miss the charm of the First Quartet (especially the engagingly played Canzonetta), although by no means do they treat it as an immature work. They are enormously arresting in the F minor Quartet, which comes first on the disc, and both here and in the E minor, they catch all the music’s dark-hued turbulence in outer movements, and the Scherzo of the latter is similarly fierce. Yet slow movements have a disarming simplicity and beauty. The recording is state-of-the-art. We hope this is to be the first of a complete survey; if so, it will be hard to beat.

Phil Muse
Atlanta Audio Society, August 2008

Offered as Volume 1 in what is presumably to be the complete set of Felix Mendelssohn’s six String Quartets, this offering contains No. 6 in F Minor, Op. 80; No. 1 in E-flat Major, Op. 12; and No. 4 in e minor, Op. 44, No. 2. These works feature so many of the composer’s salient features, including the way his opening movements tend to burst upon us without waiting for an introduction, the deep feeling and wide compass of his slow movements, his fleet-footed scherzos, and his energetic finales which often convey the feeling of perpetual motion.

These quartets contain two of Mendelssohn’s best-loved and most effective encore pieces, the frisky Canzonetta in G Minor from No. 1 and the elfin Scherzo in E Major from No. 4. The Andante in G Major from the latter quartet has one of his handsomest flowing melodies, recalling the lyricism of his “Songs without Words.”

But it is Quartet No. 6 where we find Mendelssohn at his most personal and impassioned. Written after the death of his beloved sister Fanny and at a time when he felt his own health declining, it opens with a greater rush of emotion than we find usual for this composer. The mood is continued in the darkly hued trio of the Scherzo, introduced by the viola and cello. The Adagio is far-ranging and poignant, with an air of sadness despite the major key. It provides a point of respite and meditation, however, before we are plunged into the tragic finale, marked Presto agitato and well deserving the qualifying adjective.

With performances such as these by the NZSQ, captured in nicely detailed sonics by Norbert Kraft and Bonnie Silver at Holy Martryrs Church in Bradford, Ontario, this offering whets my appetite for Volume 2.

Duncan Druce
Gramophone, July 2008

Mendelssohn superficial? The New Zealanders give the lie to that old one

Long gone are the days when the Mendelssohn quartets were neglected. The past few years, in particular, have seen plenty of fine recordings, and the New Zealand Quartet are continuing the trend in Volume I of their survey. The sound of this disc has an ample resonance, yet with little loss of clarity; it suits the group’s generous expressive style. The deep feeling they bring to movements such as the Adagio of No 6 and the first Allegro of No 4 belies any lingering thoughts of Mendelssohn as a superficial composer.

The whole performance of No 6 demonstrates the intense sorrow of this lament for his sister Fanny, and in all three quartets the New Zealanders show themselves to be reliable guides—each movement, each episode, each phrase is given its appropriate character, yet delivered with an air of spontaneity. The only slight disappointment is the famous Canzonetta in No 1, which lacks the light, fairy touch which the Vogler Quartet (Profil), for one, achieve.

Elsewhere, we can admire the beautiful, warm flow of No l’s first movement, the fine, elevated tone achieved in this quartet’s finale at the point where the home key is finally regained, and the expert way these players integrate the disparate elements of No 4’s finale. Other groups may bring out more strongly particular aspects of the music—I think especially of the Pacifica Quartet’s demonstration of the sheer brilliance of Mendelssohn’s writing for strings—but this is an auspicious start, and I’m eager to hear Vols 2 and 3 of the NZ Mendelssohn cycle.

Julian Haylock
Classic FM, June 2008

Following years of implausible neglect, Mendelssohn’s six string quartets have won a devoted following unparalleled since they first burst onto the music scene over a century-and-a-half ago. In this first volume of a new complete cycle, the New Zealand String Quartet gives a warmly affectionate account of three contrasted works ranging from the post-Beethovenian nobility of the String Quartet No 1 to the angst-ridden String Quartet No.6 in F minor. The three works are opulently recorded in a fine Canadian church (Holy Martyr’s in Bradford).

Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics, May 2008

Three cheers for all concerned! This excellent quartet, recorded in the ideal acosutic setting of Holy Martyr’s Church in Bradford, Ontario comes across as a symphonically rich group with tight ensemble, perfect intonation and a pulsing energy most suitable to Mendelssohn. As the first in a projected complete traversal of he quartets, forthcoming discs in the series will be welcomed by all chamber music lovers.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, March 2008

I always regarded the performances of Mendelssohn’s String Quartets presently in the Naxos catalogue as no more than stopgaps, and I am pleased the label has now revisited the works in the capable hands of the New Zealand String Quartet. They set out their credentials in a hard-hitting account of the Sixth Quartet, a score that gives a rare glimpse of angst among Mendelssohn’s emotions that came as the result of the recent death of his beloved sister, Fanny. It is a work of turmoil, the New Zealanders digging deep into their strings to capture the restlessness as the score grows increasingly dark, a more conventional expression of sorrow in the third movement offering a brief respite from the surrounding bleakness. It is a work that would normally contrast with the youthful mood of the First Quartet, but here the performers unfailingly seek out the strength in the music, and after a suitably vivacious scherzo, there is melancholy underlining their approach to the slow movement. They tear into the finale with much passion and an optimistically fast tempo, and carry this mood over into the intense opening allegro of the Fourth Quartet. The scherzo again introducing an impish quality to contrast with the long flowing lines of the third movement. Another high-voltage finale brings the work to an end, the New Zealanders offering a different perspective to both quartets to that we normally hear. It is a welcome addition to the catalogue to stand by the side of the long established Melos Quartet recording. At times the urgency of the outer movements finds the intonation of the leader, Helene Pohl. getting a little excitable, but otherwise the playing has much to commend it, Rolf Gjelsten’s cello playing a delight throughout. Recorded in Canada with the team that produces Naxos’s outstanding guitar recordings, the sound is both immediate and transparent.

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