Arcadia Quartet – Mendelssohn & Brahms

July 20, 2024
Producer: Dirk Lüdemann
Recording Studio: Recording Venue Rolf-Liebermann-Studio des Norddeutschen Rundfunks, Hamburg, Germany
Publisher: Balance engineer Katja Zeidler
Graphics: Recording technician Wolfgang Dierks

Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy – String Quartet in a minor, Op. 13 No. 2
Johannes Brahms – String Quartet in a minor, Op. 51 No. 2

Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) String Quartet A minor op. 13
1 Adagio – Allegro vivace 8:01
2 Adagio non lento 7:13
3 Intermezzo: Allegretto con moto – Allegro di molto 4:29
4 Presto – Adagio non lento 9:16
Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) String Quartet A minor op. 51.2
5 Allegro non troppo 9:33
6 Andante moderato 9:14
7 Quasi Minuetto, moderato – Allegretto vivace 5:02
8 Finale. Allegro non assai 7:17

The Arcadia String Quartet was founded in 2005 at the suggestion of Nicuşor Silaghi, the second violinist of the Transilvan Quartet. The young musicians gained their first experiences at chamber music festivals and with series of concerts in their home country Romania. In February 2007 they received a scholarship for a Masterclass with the Belcea Quartet in London, followed by Masterclasses with musical personalities such as Hatto Beyerle (Alban Berg Quartet), György Kurtág, Anner Bylsma, Ferenc Gábor, the Bartók, Artis, Prazák, Orlando, Ad Libitum and Voces Quartet.

In September 2009 the ensemble was awarded at their first participation at an international competition, the Gianni Bergamo Classic Music Award in Lugano (Switzerland) with the 2nd prize. Within a short period of time, the Arcadia String Quartet won the 1st prize in the 1st International Chamber Music Competition in Hamburg (ICMC), and, as special awards of the ICMC, the Mendelssohn-Prize from the Oscar and Vera Ritter Foundation, a Brahms-Prize and a CD production. Performances in Hamburg, Heidelberg, Chemnitz, Eisenstadt (Austria), Zurich,
Budapest and Beijing are harbingers of the Arcadia String Quartet’s worldwide career.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe likened the experience of listening to a string quartet to eavesdropping on a conversation among four intelligent people. In a sense, the string quartet can be regarded as the supreme discipline in chamber music. By today’s standards, Joseph Haydn could well file a patent application on the invention of the string quartet. Starting with four-part string divertimenti, he elevated the genre to the lonely heights of that emancipated dialogue which musically reflects the rationalist-enlightened world-view of his era at its finest. Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy was born in 1809, three months prior to Haydn’s death. The child’s early musical talent soon became apparent. Felix first performed as a pianist at the age of 9. Two years later, he forged ahead as a gifted composer, beginning his life’s work with stunning creativity: In this first year alone, he completed almost 60 works. In 1823 he wrote his first string quartet, a piece still indebted to role models such as Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven. However, it already reveals the unique splendour which was to mark Mendelssohn’s compositions until his early death.

Mendelssohn’s second string quartet, the string quartet No 2 in A minor Op. 13 composed in 1827, is the work of an eighteen year-old. It may well be one of the boldest and most difficult compositions of Mendelssohn’s early years and was, beyond any doubt, inspired by the string
quartets Op. 132 and Op. 95 by Beethoven (who, incidentally, had died that very year.) Its third Intermezzo movement, not particularly modelled on Beethoven, marks an atmospheric rest period within this weighty piece. With his typical grace, Mendelssohn evokes the world of rococo
which, like a serene spectacle, disappears again from the scene as the last notes fade out. The work’s kinship with Beethoven is particularly illustrated by an anecdote related by Mendelssohn himself: During the performance of his quartet in A minor in a Paris salon, the person sitting next to Mendelssohn tucked the composer’s sleeve and said: He’s got this in one of his symphonies. Mendelssohn’s slightly anxious counter question Who? prompted the grave reply: Why, Beethoven, the composer of this string quartet. The true composer of the piece commented on
the blissfully ignorant – and therefore honourable – compliment with the words: It was bittersweet.

You have no idea what it feels like always to hear such a giant marching behind one, Johannes Brahms wrote to his friend the conductor Herrmann Levi in the early 1870ies, describing his feelings regarding the legacy of Ludwig van Beethoven which he felt to be heavily weighing on his own creativity. For Brahms, the compositions of the First Viennese School formed the compulsory framework of his own work, encouraging him to adopt a rigorous self-critical stance
which ruled out anything second-rate. It was with regard to the forms of symphony and string quartet especially (mainly shaped by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven) that Brahms had to overcome feelings of deep self-doubt before he felt ready to publish works of these particular
musical genres. Not until he had passed the age of fourty did he manage, shortly after one another, to cut the Gordian Knot in both areas of conflict. Unfortunately I must continue to ask you to be patient, Brahms wrote to his publisher Fritz Simrock on 24 June 1869 after having been asked to compose string quartets. Brahms was alluding to Mozart who had called his six Haydn quartets the fruits of a long and laborious work. Mozart, by the way, particularly strained himself to write six fine quartets, which is why we want to apply ourselves to achieving the one or other acceptable one. They shall not be withheld from you. However, if I were a publisher today, I would stop the urging. In his early years, Brahms is said to have written and destroyed more than 20 quartets. In 1865, his friend the violinist Joseph Joachim sent Brahms a letter reminding him to finish a promised quartet in C minor. As late as 1873, Brahms, by his own admission, composed the piece for the second time, announcing to his friend Theodor Billroth: I am about to deliver string quartets, not my first ones, but for the first time. Thus, Simrock was able to publish the two string quartets Op. 51 in 1873. With the publication of his third string quartet in B Major, Op. 67 only three years later, Brahms completed his contribution to the supreme genre of chamber music. Time had come to face up to Beethoven as a symphonic composer: Brahms wrote his first symphony in the same year.

Detmar Huchting
Translation: Marc Staudacher

ICMC – The Hamburg International Chamber Music Competition

The Hamburg International Chamber Music Competition ICMC was created in Hamburg in 2009 – the year of the 200th anniversary of Joseph Haydn’s death as well as of the birth of Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.

Set in the categories string quartet and piano trio, the ICMC is addressing musicians of all nations with the objective of supporting and promoting young professional talents. In competition rounds open to the public, the ensembles qualified for participation will present themselves to a jury made up of accomplished chamber musicians from around the world. While attractive amounts of prize money are to be won, the first-place winners in each category will furthermore be rewarded with a professionally organised concert tour as well as a CD recording for the Fontenay Classics‘ series young professional edition.

Thanks to Niklas Schmidt, Professor of Chamber Music and Violoncello at the University for Music and Drama Hamburg as well as initiator of the Hamburg ICMC, none other than the doyen of international chamber music Menahem Pressler, aged well over 80 years, could be won over as president of the top-class jury. Further jury members were, among others, Bernhard Greenhouse, Valentin Erben, Shmuel Ashkenasi and Alain Meunier.

The Arcadia Quartet’s debut disc has attracted critical acclaim.

‘their intimate performance’, ‘their exceptional sonority’ and their ‘expressive power which leaves a deep impression on the listener’ by Ensemble Magazine