Hyperion Records

String Quintet No 2 in B flat major, Op 87

'Mendelssohn: String Quintets' (CDH55377)
Mendelssohn: String Quintets
Buy by post £5.50 CDH55377  Helios (Hyperion's budget label)  
Movement 1: Allegro vivace
Track 5 on CDH55377 [9'51] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 2: Andante scherzando
Track 6 on CDH55377 [4'45] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 3: Adagio e lento
Track 7 on CDH55377 [8'44] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
Movement 4: Allegro molto vivace
Track 8 on CDH55377 [5'37] Helios (Hyperion's budget label)

String Quintet No 2 in B flat major, Op 87
String Quintet No 2 in B flat major, Op 87, dates from 1845 (Mendelssohn was still only thirty-six years old at the time), a year before his triumphant success with Elijah in Birmingham and just two years prior to his premature death. His fifth and last child, Lili, was born that year, and he maintained close contacts teaching at the Leipzig Conservatory where his by now somewhat irascible mood swings were causing some concern. The pupils adored him, however, if only for his prodigious talent. Even Mendelssohn was proved fallible on one occasion, when a student could not work out which note to place next in a contrapuntal exercise. Mendelssohn took a long studied look and, confirming the student’s problem, remarked: ‘Neither can I!’

One of Mendelssohn’s trademarks is a predilection for the concertante style of quartet/quintet writing as most spectacularly deployed in the first and third of his Opus 44 Quartets. The opening of the B flat Quintet’s first movement encapsulates this to stunning effect with the first violin launching ahead with an exhilarating theme while the rest of the ensemble accompanies with excited chordal semiquavers. This allows for a far greater range of textural contrast than many other composers (even Beethoven is hardly blameless in this respect) whose contrapuntal obsessions can lead to a certain textural two-dimensionalism. It also allows for differentiation of presentation so that when the theme returns, the increase in contrapuntal activity allows him to move straight into the second subject as though it were the most natural thing in the world. As always with Mendelssohn even the most apparently carefree of musical materials is deployed with exceptional skill and inventiveness. If a certain déjà vu as regards the Octet is almost inevitable (the thrilling ending to the movement, for example), the charge that Mendelssohn spent the latter part of his all-too-short career reliving old triumphs is an unfair generalization.

The all too brief Andante scherzando is reminiscent of the half-lit world of the Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream (1842), with its gentle hints of nocturnal spookiness (the pizzicato ending is a particularly delightful touch). In comparison, the Adagio e lento creates tensions between a predominately chamber style and pseudo-orchestral outbursts, the heavenly coda transforming the whole movement with a magical harmonic side-step into D major. If the breathless finale occasionally appears obsessively fleet-footed and manically busy—even Mendelssohn admitted to not having a very high opinion of it—the composer’s extraordinary skill in generating interest from material which might at first sight appear less than promising nevertheless triumphantly affirms his place as one of the great masters of his craft.

from notes by Julian Haylock © 1998

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Details for CDH55377 track 6
Andante scherzando
Recording date
25 June 1997
Recording venue
St George's, Brandon Hill, United Kingdom
Recording producer
Andrew Keener
Recording engineer
Tony Faulkner
Hyperion usage
  1. Mendelssohn: String Quintets (CDA66993)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: April 1998
    Deletion date: January 2009
    Superseded by CDH55377
  2. Mendelssohn: String Quintets (CDH55377)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: June 2012
    Helios (Hyperion's budget label)
  3. Hyperion monthly sampler – June 2012 (HYP201206)
    Disc 1 Track 6
    Release date: June 2012
    Download-only monthly sampler
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