This is the second volume in the recordings of the complete Mendelssohn works for string quartet being made by the New Zealand String Quartet. Although one doesn't hear the Mendelssohn string quartets all that often in concert, they have been recorded numerous times over the years and there is fearful competition in this realm. The New Zealand String Quartet was founded twenty or so years ago, tour widely, and their recording of the Berg Quartet and Lyric Suite and the Wolf Italian Serenade was greeted in several quarters as among the best ever made Berg: String Quartet; Lyric Suite; Wolf: Italian Serenade. The present disc contains Mendelssohn's Quartet No. 2 in A Minor, Op. 13 and Quartet No. 5 in E Flat Major, Op. 44, No. 3 as well as two of the pieces from his Op. 81, the Capriccio in E Minor and the Fugue in E Flat Major.
The Second Quartet, written when Mendelssohn was only eighteen, is exceedingly tuneful and beautifully crafted. It is one of Mendelssohn's most dramatic works, not a characteristic generally attributed to this composer. All the while it is intensely lyrical. Each movement in its own way is a masterpiece, but I am particularly moved by the second movement, Adagio, which the New Zealand play with aching beauty matched only by the playing of the Henschel Quartet on Arte Nova Mendelssohn: String Quartets Op. 13 & Op. 44 No. 3 whose complete traversal of all the quartets I can recommend unreservedly.
Quartet No. 5, Op. 44, No. 3 is from ten years or so later, in 1838. It has a very long first movement, almost thirteen minutes long, that is not however discursive but rather quite dense in its use of materials, counterpoint and chromaticism. The second movement Scherzo is not at all light-hearted as many of Mendelssohn's scherzos are; instead, it is genuinely scary-sinister. The New Zealand Quartet do not bring this off as well as either the Talich, the Emerson or the Henschel Quartets do. Mendelssohn: The Three Quartets, Op. 44, Mendelssohn: The Complete String Quartets / Emerson String Quartet, Mendelssohn: String Quartets Op. 13 & Op. 44 No. 3. But the final two movements by the New Zealand are among the best I've heard.
Menselssohn lumped several single movements for string quartet into his Op. 81. On this disc we hear the Capriccio, 81/3, and the Fugue, 81/4 and both performances here are quite good.
Bottom line: These are entirely creditable performances by a quartet not as well known as they should be. However, there is intense recorded competition for these works as outlined above. If it is these two particular quartets (plus the Capriccio and Fugue) you are interested in, you would undoubtedly be satisfied with this release.