Movement 1: Allegro vivace
Movement 2: Andante scherzando
Movement 3: Adagio e lento
Movement 4: Allegro molto vivace
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