Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Octet in E♭ major, op.20
Georges Enescu: String Octet in C major, op.7

Media Review / Listening Diary 2023-07-24

2023-07-24 — Original posting

Table of Contents


After a long pause, I’m returning to my “Listening Diary” section, for several string octet recordings. It’s on one of the rare occasions where I get a chance to listen to recent acquisitions—in this case, the CD above. For a description of the CD see below. That recording comprises two compositions:

Both are performed by the combined Gringolts Quartet and Meta4 string quartet formations (see the section “The Artists” below).

Rather than commenting in a single performance “out of the blue”, I prefer writing reviews where I can relate to or compare with other interpretations. Hence, I have added recordings from my CD library to this review. A description of the media (contents, etc.) is found towards the bottom of this posting, under “Media Information“.

The Works: Two Wonderful String Octets

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy, by Edward Magnus, 1846
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy

Mendelssohn: Octet in E♭ major, op.20

The Octet in E♭ major, op.20 by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847) barely needs an introduction. It arguably is the composer’s most famous and most popular chamber music work. Mendelssohn wrote it 1825, at the age of 16. I have written about several concert performances of this composition, including one by the Merel Quartet and the Castalian String Quartet. That concert happened a few months after the recording below. The work comes in four movements:

  1. Allegro moderato ma con fuoco (4/4)
  2. Andante (6/8)
  3. Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo (2/4)
  4. Presto (2/2)

George Enescu
George Enescu

Enescu: String Octet in C major, op.7

Georges Enescu (1881 – 1955) completed his String Octet in C major, op.7 in 1900, when he was 19. The work features four movements (all performed attacca):

  1. Très modéré — Plus animé — Encore plus animé — (Tempo I) —
  2. Très fougueux — Moins vite — (Tempo I) — Très vite — Extrêmement vite
  3. Lentement — Plus animé — Un peu moins vite — (Tempo I) — Très animé — Animé — Moins vite
  4. Mouvement de Valse bien rythmée — Un peu lent — (Tempo I) — Plus vite

Already in my first encounter with this work (in Budapest, on 2017-06-13), I was most impressed, both by the composition, as well as with the performance. In that performance, the ensemble was led by the violinist Vilde Frang (*1986, see also Wikipedia).

The following year, on 2018-03-12, I had the pleasure to witness Vilde Frang again. That was in Zurich, with different artists, though, and under the label “Vilde Frang & Friends”. And here again, one of the works was Enescu’s String Octet in C major, op.7.

The concert reviews I’m referring to above (2017-06-13, 2018-03-12) include extensive descriptions of the music in Enescu’s op.7, therefore I refrain from duplicating any of this here.

The Artists

Gringolts Quartet / Meta4

The ensemble in the featured recording consists of two independent, autonomous string quartet formations:

Gringolts Quartet (© Tomasz Trzebiatowski)
Gringolts Quartet (© Tomasz Trzebiatowski)

Gringolts Quartet

I don’t need to introduce the Gringolts Quartet, as I have written about these artists in several concert reviews. The ensemble fascinated me right from a first encounter in a concert on 2017-04-21. That fascination persisted through several concerts since then. They remain one of my top favorite string quartets. Since its inception in 2008, the Zurich-based ensemble consists of the same four musicians:

For more information on the artists see my review from the concert on 2017-04-21.

Meta4 (© Tero Ahonen)
Meta4 (© Tero Ahonen)


The Finnish Meta4 string quartet consists of the following members:

The ensemble was formed in 2001, by the two violinists Antti Tikkanen and Minna Pensola. For more information on the artists see the above Web links.

I could not resist asking myself whether “Meta4 = meta four = metaphor“?? In plain Finnish, though, the name reads “Metaneliä“.

For this recording, the members of the above two ensembles assumed the following roles:

  • Minna Pensola, violin 1
  • Ilya Gringolts, violin 2
  • Anahit Kurtikyan, violin 3
  • Antti Tikkanen, violin 4
  • Atte Kilpeläinen, viola 1
  • Silvia Simionescu, viola 2
  • Claudius Herrmann, cello 1
  • Tomas Djupsjöbacka, cello 2

The recording for this CD took place 2018-12 at Sellosali, Espoo, Finland.

Vilde Frang and Friends, Zurich, 2018-03-12
Vilde Frang and Friends, Zurich, 2018-03-12 {© Rolf Kyburz)

Vilde Frang & Friends

The Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang recorded Enescu’s String Octet in C major, op.7, half a year after the concert in Zurich on 2018-03-12. For the CD description see below. The recording also includes the Violin Concerto No.1, Sz.36 / BB 48a by Béla Bartók (1881 – 1945), not discussed in this post. These are the musicians that perform Enescu’s Octet on the CD:

With two exceptions, these artists also performed in the concert in Zurich, on 2018-03-12. The exceptions (***) were Erik Schumann and Gabriel Le Magadure. In the 2018 concert in Zurich, the violinists Tai Murray (*1982, see also Wikipedia) and Gregory Ahss filled these roles.

The String Octet part of this CD was recorded on 2017-10-22:24 in the Schloss Elmau Concert Hall, Elmau, Germany.

Emerson String Quartet (© DG)
Emerson String Quartet (© DG)

Emerson String Quartet

The Emerson String Quartet is/was one of the prominent quartet formations in the United States over the past decades. In their recording of the Mendelssohn String Quartets, the ensemble consisted of

  • Eugene Drucker, violin (founding member)
  • Philip Setzer, violin (founding member)
  • Lawrence Dutton, viola
  • David Finckel, cello (1979 – 2013)

The quartet emerged in 1976 and maintained the above configuration till 2013, when the cellist Paul Watkins joined the group. The Emerson String Quartet recently decided to end its 47-year career. Their final farewell concerts will take place in October 2023.

I have reviewed the ensemble’s complete recording of the Beethoven String Quartets. There is also a separate review of their recording of the String Quartet No.15 in G major, D.887 by Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828). That review also covers other quartet formations.

Merel Quartet & Castalian String Quartet, Wetzikon ZH, 2019-09-28 (© Rolf Kyburz)
Concert in Wetzikon ZH, 2019-09-28: Merel Quartet & Castalian String Quartet (© Rolf Kyburz)

Merel Quartet / Castalian String Quartet

Castalian String Quartet (© Kaupo Kikkas)
Castalian String Quartet (© Kaupo Kikkas)

Castalian String Quartet

In the concert on 2019-09-29 and the recording (made in connection with that concert) the Castalian String Quartet (formed in 2011) consisted of the following artists:

  • Sini Simonen, violin (Finland)
  • Daniel Roberts, violin (Wales, U.K.)
  • Charlotte Bonneton, viola (France)
  • Christopher Graves, cello (England, U.K.)

For information on the quartet see my concert review from 2019-09-29. The ensemble has since undergone two staff changes. Since 2021, the viola position is in the hands of Ruth Gibson (Ireland). Also, since 2022, the cellist is Steffan Morris (Wales, U.K.). Further, in 2024, Ruth Gibson moved on to other ventures. Her successor in the ensemble is the U.S. American violist Nathalie Loughran (*2000).

Merel Quartett (© Hannes Heinzer)
Merel Quartett (© Hannes Heinzer)

Merel Quartet

The Merel Quartet (founded 2002) entered this post “through a backdoor”. I witnessed their performance of the Mendelssohn Octet in a concert, on 2019-09-29, in Wetzikon. I do not currently have a physical copy of their CD recording. The artists in the ensemble are

  • Mary Ellen Woodside, violin
  • Edouard Mätzener, violin
  • Alessandro D’Amico, viola
  • Rafael Rosenfeld, cello

For details on their biographies see my earlier review from a concert on 2019-09-22.

According to the booklet (IDAGIO), the idea for this recording emerged on the occasion of a concert in October 2017. Based on the photos in the booklet, the Merel Quartet clearly took the lead role:

  • Mary Ellen Woodside, violin 1
  • Edouard Mätzener, violin 2
  • Sini Simonen, violin 3
  • Daniel Roberts, violin 4
  • Alessandro D’Amico, viola 1
  • Charlotte Bonneton, viola 2
  • Rafael Rosenfeld, cello 1
  • Christopher Graves, cello 2

The actual recording took place on 2019-02-13:16, at Konzerthaus Blaibach, Germany.

Review — Mendelssohn: Octet in E♭ major, op.20

Emerson String Quartet

The acquisition of the recordings of the complete string quartets by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy dates back to my pre-blog days. At that time, my primary interest was in expanding repertoire in my music library, rather than searching for the “best” recording at all cost. As outlined above, I did already have the ensemble’s interpretation of the Beethoven string quartets. However, I hadn’t yet done an in-depth evaluation of that recording. Still, I must have felt that their interpretation was at least technically clean, clear, solid, and without major flaws. Their Mendelssohn collection looked like an opportunity to cover “all of Mendelssohn” in that genre.

In fact, their Mendelssohn string quartet interpretation is solid, not overly romantic, technically clean, virtuosic. At times, it is maybe somewhat “cold / technical”. Not surprisingly, it is featuring a prominent, ubiquitous vibrato. A good, solid, traditional interpretation. Still, by now, it is not my first preference—be it only for their vibrato.

An Octet with Four Players?

It was instantly clear to me what they had done: they dubbed themselves by combining two partial recordings. The video that comes with the recording confirms this. I concede that it’s not quite as simple as mere dubbing.

The artists went through considerable hoops, e.g., by using two sets of (mostly Stradivari, I believe) instruments for the “half-recordings”. However, I actually think that this was (in parts) a wasted effort. Namely, the unaware listener most likely won’t even notice the subtle difference in sonority between the two instrument sets.

I suspect that what motivated the ensemble to go this route was both the technical challenge in exploring the technical possibilities, as well as the sheer fun of doing it. There may also have been the idea of ensuring perfection, conformity, homogeneity and coherence by not involving “external” artists? In the end, however: What’s the musical benefit?

As an aside: the two separate “half-tracks” of the Scherzo that are included in the download version remain a pure curiosity. Most listeners may see these as useless, offering no extra benefit and musical experience. Yes, during the pandemic, we have experienced myriads of dubbed ensemble performances (often from a single musician). However, for most, that was a necessity in a desperate situation of isolation. It certainly does not justify the Emerson String Quartet’s “octet experiment” in the aftermath.

And the Result?

The direct comparison with “real / proper” recordings (or concert performances) definitely revealed how flawed the Emerson’s approach is. Yes, the coordination is (near-) perfect, but the performance lacks the life that originates in the difference in character, temperament, emotionality between two different quartet formations.

Moreover (and more importantly), through a purely intellectual effort, the musicians may have realized rudimentary agogics, ritardandi, etc. However, with this recording mechanism, spontaneous dynamics, articulation, agogics, momentary mutual stimulation (life!) can impossibly occur. I don’t mean to claim that the result is as dead as a MIDI playback. Still, the interpretation—albeit technically near-perfect—definitely lacks inner life, human interplay. At least in parts: a wasted effort. There is an aspect of machine-like, restless drivenness, a lack of agogic and emotional play.

Details, by Movement:

I. Allegro moderato, ma con fuoco
See above. Also, in comparison with the recordings below, I noted a limited / restricted dynamic range (if not a certain dynamic uniformity overall).
Rating: ★★★

II. Andante
The absence of vibrato in the first bar is deceptive: the two violas perform on empty (c and g) strings. This changes dramatically already in the second bar. From there on, the performance is overloaded with, even soaked in vibrato. Especially where a Leitmotif appears. I would even claim that the music sometimes turns into undifferentiated vibrato soup. “Highly expressive” may have been the idea. Sadly, the effect (to me) is the contrary.
Rating: ★★

III. Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo
Relentlessly driven, if not machine-like (following the “coordination metronome”?), mere sports: yes, technically perfect, but what about the music?
Rating: ★★★

IV. Presto
Colorful . The recording engineer trying to highlight the characteristics of individual instruments?. However, at the same time often coarse, rough (momentarily even careless in some details)—and rushed, pushed, driven…
Rating: ★★★

Overall Rating: 2.75

Mendelssohn: String Octet op.20 & String Quartet op.12 — Merel & Castalian String Quartets: CD cover

Merel Quartet / Castalian String Quartet

For the most part, I rely upon my review from the concert on 2019-09-29. That concert happened more than half a year after the recording of the CD. However, I think that by and large my concert review is also valid for the recording. Even though the interpretation must have evolved. I don’t want to repeat my comments from the concert. Rather, I will merely point out where the recording appears to differ from the concert (based on my review and vague memories of details in that performance). I usually only write about media that I have acquired as hardcopy. However, as an exception, I now listened to this recording via streaming platform (Spotify).

Comments, by Movement:

I. Allegro moderato, ma con fuoco
The recorded performance certainly is as impressive as in concert. And the first movement remains the most impressive in this interpretation. A lively, living performance (in contrast to the Emerson’s)! As in concert, the ff climax around bar 218 is overwhelming, enthralling—almost like a volcanic eruption, or the irresistible natural forces of an avalanche!
Rating: ★★★★

II. Andante
Compared to the Emersons, these artists are more moderate in their use of vibrato. Yes, here, the performance is indeed expressive. My main (minor) reservation is in some of the (tempo) transitions, which (to me) don’t always feel entirely compelling. A movement that turns out surprisingly (musically) difficult / challenging!
Rating: ★★★½

III. Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo
Slightly slower than the Emersons. From my concert review, I sense that the recording has fewer coordination issues. It feels somewhat more careful overall—to the point where the performance occasionally risks losing drive and tension. Still, coordination, clarity and transparency are not always at top level. However, I really like the pp / ppp passages!
Rating: ★★★½

IV. Presto
A very good performance, dramatic, coherent, excellent in the coordination (though not polished to ultimate perfection). Dramatic, beats the concert performance in consistency.
Rating: ★★★★

Overall Rating: 3.75

Gringolts Quartet / Meta4

A powerful combination of two top-class string quartet formations, where both quartets perform with the same mastership. I repeatedly had to remind myself that the first violinist in the recording was Minna Pensola of Meta4, not Ilya Gringolts

Comments, by Movement

I. Allegro moderato, ma con fuoco

A little faster than Merel/Castalian. It’s enthralling, but never driven or pushed, even where they accelerate noticeably, if not dramatically, towards a climax or a transition! The musicians typically use very little, if any vibrato. However, that does not make their performance sound raw of “flat”. Quite to the contrary. The interpretation stands out through it’s lively, “speaking” dynamics—highly differentiated and direct, down to the level of motifs. I also like the rhetorics with sudden little accents, the shaping of individual notes. Particularly in the first violin (Minna Pensola) (no Nachdrücken, of course!). The “speaking” dynamics are associated with equally lively agogics, distinct, enthralling (but never exaggerated) rubato.

Nothing is “made up”, but rather feels spontaneous. And playful, joyful, fun—e.g., in Minna Pensola‘s occasional (very fitting) extra ornaments, such as inverted mordents. And, of course, the tension never drops, even where the performance retracts to mysterious pp (and below). IOt isa retaining its presence and attention in every single note. Highly expressive, transparent, utmost clarity in melodies and articulation—simply masterful!
Rating: ★★★★★

II. Andante

The performance feels like the most fluent of the three—but the tempo is indeed excellent, a proper Andante! Clarity in musical textures / structures, exemplary agogics: coherent, compelling, strongly expressive. That begins with the very first bar, where the “empty fifth on empty c and g strings” in the violas are so carefully shaped, using expansive dynamics. That persists in every phrase, throughout the movement.

The first violin takes the intended, highly exposed lead role, with a strong narration, with Mendelssohn’s lively dynamics at the level of the smallest motifs, even individual notes. A movement in extremes, moving between bleak, vibrato-less, but suspenseful pp and highly dramatic, intense eruptions. A masterful interpretation, with attention to the tiniest detail!
Rating: ★★★★★

III. Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo

Almost as fast as the Emersons. However, the performance never feels pushed / too driven. Rather, the pace is not maintained stubbornly, but remains flexible, allowing for rubato. For example, towards the end of the first part, the ensemble accelerates, in order to start the repeat at a seemingly even faster pace. However, tension and suspense would never drop even a bit, musical presence it maintained at every moment.
Life, fun, playful lightness—and, of course, the usual, lively dynamics, “talking” in every motif, up to the ghastly ending.
Rating: ★★★★★

IV. Presto

Tempo-wise, this performance lies between the other two (5’35” vs. 5’53” vs. 5’46” in actual timing). Not surprisingly excellent in expressive agogics, virtuosity / transparency, playfulness, lively dynamics. Dramatic, full of life—an agitated debate between 8 voices / musicians.

Polished sonority (let alone cold perfection) in every note is not the goal in this interpretation—though the performance never, ever feels careless. What counts is the musical life, the expression—presented in rare unanimity and coherence.
Rating: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: 5.0


My comments above indicate that I find the experiment by the Emerson String Quartet pointless—not recommended at all—apart from the fact that I no longer appreciate their style of performance.

I certainly do like the performance by the Merel Quartet / Castalian String Quartet (keeping vivid memories of their concert in 2019). They remain a recommendation for those who find the interpretation by the Gringolts Quartet / Meta4 too radical (even extreme?).

In the end, however, I have a clear preference for the recording with the Gringolts Quartet and Meta4—fabulous, strongly recommended!

Review — Enescu: String Octet in C major, op.7

Bartók / Enescu — Vilde Frang, Mikko Franck (CD cover)

Vilde Frang & Friends

As outlined above, I so far encountered Enescu’s String Octet in concert twice. As my reviews (Budapest, 2017-06-13, and Zurich, 2018-03-12) indicate, I was more than just fascinated. I actually was overwhelmed by the work’s expressive force, the irresistible, melodic power. As opposed to the motoric drive, the virtuosity in Mendelssohn’s counterpart / predecessor work.

Both these performances were with the Norwegian violinist Vilde Frang. The second one even featured 6 of the 8 musicians of the ensemble in the recording featured here. Time-wise, that recording took place on 2017-10-22:24, almost exactly in the middle between the two concert dates. Therefore I regard my concert reviews (particularly the second one, as the ensemble was almost identical) as also applying to this recording. Therefore, I’m keeping my comments on this recording short, sketchy, focusing on the differences to the contending recording.

Comments, by Movement

I. Très modéré — Plus animé — Encore plus animé — (Tempo I) —

Especially in comparison with the featured recording (Gringolts Quartet / Meta4), I noted a rather nervous vibrato, not just in Vilde Frang’s playing, but also in the other parts, especially solos. A little too much to me, but maybe better than overly heavy (and strong) vibrating? I think that Enescu’s music is dramatic enough already.- It doesn’t need extra dramatization through prominent vibrato.

Throughout the ensemble, there are instances of short, but noticeable Nachdrücken. There are also segments where portamento (subtle, though) occurs a little too frequently. I noted this particularly in the expressive, elegiac segments (outside of the powerful unisono segments). That said: my comments on the concert performance remain valid. They equally apply to the recording—a thoroughly enthralling performance!
Rating: ★★★★

II. Très fougueux — Moins vite — (Tempo I) — Très vite — Extrêmement vite —

Enthralling and full of life, but slightly less coherent, not quite as stringent / “radical” as Gringolts/Meta4. The latter perform with exceptional unanimity and coherence. In contrast, this recording makes me sense a group of eight (highly qualified, for sure!) individuals. It is very impressive, nevertheless. One detail: the transition to the Moins vite part is less abrupt, more organic. This happens at the expense of some structural clarity and contrast.
Rating: ★★★★

III. Lentement — Plus animé — Un peu moins vite — (Tempo I) — Très animé — Animé — Moins vite —

It’s the same music as in the featured recording—yet, the soundscape is substantially different, lighter. One may attribute some of this to recording and acoustics. However, what counts is the result, which feels less intense and warm, more lyrical, peaceful.

In the first part, the initial solo by the muted second violin (Erik Schumann) is integrated into the accompaniment. It is almost inconspicuous. The subsequent solo of the (unmuted) first violin (Vilde Frang) is far less different to the first solo (than in the interpretation by Gingolts/Meta4). This applies to both color, as well as in character / atmosphere. Only with the Plus animé, Vilde Frang takes the clear lead, expressively, supported by fairly prominent, romantic vibrato. Luckily, the latter is not as nervous as in the opening movements.
Rating: ★★★★

IV. Mouvement de Valse bien rythmée — Un peu lent — (Tempo I) — Plus vite

At least initially, this is the faster of the two interpretations—though I think that the tempo difference is not relevant for the listening experience. In the opening section, the dynamic span between solo and tremolo accompaniment is less pronounced than with Gingolts/Meta4. Conversely, in the subsequent, polyphonic section, the solo voices tend to be more dominant. At the same time, the recording does not quite the clarity, the sonoric and structural transparency than the contending recording. An enthralling recording, nevertheless!

Relative to Gingolts/Meta4, the performance may be slightly inferior in (sonoric) ensemble coherence. However, all voices are highly expressive and highly engaged—they often appear to compete for a prominent role. The focus here is not, to make the ensemble sound like a single, homogeneous sound body, but the vivacity of the music, the experience.
Rating: ★★★★

Overall Rating: 4.0

Gringolts Quartet / Meta4

According to the booklet, the ensemble configuration is the same as for the Mendelssohn octet—see above for details. Again, Minna Pensola plays the first violin, and the often prominent role of first viola is filled by Atte Kilpeläinen, both from Meta4.

Comments, by Movement

I. Très modéré — Plus animé — Encore plus animé — (Tempo I) —

Stunning, this unison opening block! It is performed with unparalleled unanimity and coherence and mind-blowing sonority. Superb, a class on its own! In the elegiac segments, the musicians now apply more vibrato. Yet, it remains natural, and at a level that does not affect clarity in articulation and intonation. There is also the occasional portamento. However, different from the recording with Vilde Frang, it occurs less predictably / uniformly, and with a bigger variety (also downwards). It fits the music and the performance style. And Nachdrücken.is very rare, barely ever conspicuous.

There are tempo changes and rubato. However, these appear entirely natural, often hardly recognizable. Also in the many solos (in the expressive / elegiac parts), the sonority is warm, dark in the lower registers (especially the viola!). Moreover, the coherence and unanimity also applies to the dynamics, throughout. And the octave parallels are of exceptional purity.
Rating: ★★★★★

II. Très fougueux — Moins vite — (Tempo I) — Très vite — Extrêmement vite

Enthralling, full of drive, “radical” and direct in its expression and articulation, extraordinary coherence and conciseness, stringency. In the slower, expressive part (Moins vite), the interpretation is highly expressive (but not over-romanticized), with long dynamic arches, always maintaining structural clarity. And also in the expressive segments, the interpretation never loses any stringency.
Rating: ★★★★★

III. Lentement — Plus animé — Un peu moins vite — (Tempo I) — Très animé — Animé — Moins vite

Ah—this warm, dense soundscape that embraces, envelops, caresses the listener! And then, the melody in the muted second violin (Ilya Gringolts) expresses sadness, resignation, but also consolation. When the first violin (Minna Pensola) takes over without mute, the melody appears transfigured, brighter, lucid, offering not just consolation, but now also hope and perspective.

The soundscape intensifies, and with the reminiscences of themes from the previous movements, an intimate discourse evolves, intensifies. Towards the end, the conversation appears to move away, into introspection, with harsh interjections with the opening theme from the second movement.

The movement is a true masterpiece, and in this interpretation, I get completely carried away—to the point where I’m absolutely unaware of the (several) tempo changes etc.: masterful!

What does this music remind me of? Richard Wagner (1813 – 1883)? Some Opera moments, perhaps—the Siegfried Idyll uses similar harmonies, but is harmless in comparison. Or, is it rather inspired by Tod und Verklärung (Death and Transfiguration), op.24 (from 1888/1889) by Richard Strauss (1864 – 1949)?
Rating: ★★★★★

IV. Mouvement de Valse bien rythmée — Un peu lent — (Tempo I) — Plus vite

Fabulous, this alertness, the immediacy of accents and dynamic changes, and at the same time, this constant, irresistible flow up to the final bar! Clarity, transparency in the polyphony, perfect balance between the voices. Enthralling, fantastic.

Note: the track duration below is deceptive—the actual duration is 8’27”.
Rating: ★★★★★

Overall Rating: 5.0


Vilde Frang & Friends offer a fantastic, enthralling interpretation. In the aftermath, though, the recording can’t exactly match the effect, the immediacy of the concert experience. I should add that the concerts with Vilde Frang were my first encounters with Enescu’s masterwork, which certainly caused the concert experience to be more immediate, overwhelming.

I think that my comments on the recording with Gringolts Quartet / Meta4 speak for themselves. What makes them the clear winners? To me, it is the fact that the ensemble consisted of two top-of-the-line, experienced string quartet formations. This makes the merging to an octet the “simple” task of “adding 4+4”. Conversely, Vilde Frang was facing the task of bringing together eight (definitely highly qualified) individuals. These are (for the most part, at least) not jointly performing as permanent ensemble. On the other hand, this has the potential benefit of yielding more colors and individuality from each of the voices, and a livelier experience.

Overall, I certainly hold the recording with Vilde Frang & Friends in very high esteem—more than just as a refresher of the concert experience(s). In the end, however, to me, Gringolts Quartet / Meta4 are the clear winners here: my strongest possible recommendation!

Media Information

Gringolts Quartet / Meta4 — Mendelssohn & Enescu: String Octets

Mendelssohn Bartholdy: Octet in E♭ major, op.20
Enescu: String Octet in C major, op.7

Gringolts Quartet / Meta4

BIS: BIS-2447 (SACD multi-channel stereo, ℗ / © 2020)
Booklet: 28 pp., en/de/fr

amazon media link

Track Listing

Total Duration: 1h09’43”

Vilde Frang et al. — Bartók: Violin Concerto No.1 / Enescu: String Octet

Bartók / Enescu — Vilde Frang, Mikko Franck (CD cover)

Bartók: Violin Concerto No.1, Sz.36 / BB 48a
Enescu: String Octet in C major, op.7

Vilde Frang, Mikko Franck / Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France
Vilde Frang, Erik Schumann, Gabriel Le Magadure, Rosanne Philippens, Lawrence Power, Lily Francis, Nicolas Altstaedt, Jan-Erik Gustafsson

Warner Classics 0190295662554 (CD, stereo, ℗ / © 2018)
Booklet: 28 pp., en/fr/de

Bartók / Enescu — Vilde Frang, Mikko Franck (CD, UPC-A barcode)
amazon media link

Track Listing

  • Béla Bartók (1881 – 1945): Violin Concerto No.1, Sz.36 / BB 48a [21’04”]
    • I. Andante sostenuto [9’10”]
    • II. Allegro giocoso [11’54”]
  • Georges Enescu (1881 – 1955): String Octet in C major, op.7 [37’01”]
    • I. Très modéré — [11’57”]
    • II. Très fougueux — [7’46”]
    • III. Lentement — [9’11”]
    • IV. Mouvement de valse bien rythmée [8’08”]

Total Duration: 58’05”

Emerson String Quartet — Mendelssohn: The Complete String Quartets, Octet

Mendelssohn Bartholdy: The Complete String Quartets, Octet in E♭ major, op.20

Emerson String Quartet

DG: 289 477 537-0 (4 CDs stereo/DDD, ℗ / © 2005)
(Digital download)

amazon media link

The Works in the CD Set

Arranged by composition, all are works by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847):

  • String Quartet in E♭ major (1823) [23’51”]
    • I. Allegro moderato [8’42”]
    • II. Adagio non troppo [5’15”]
    • III. Minuetto — Trio — Minuetto [5’51”]
    • IV. Fuga [4’03”]
  • String Quartet No.1 in E♭ major, op.12 [23’32”]
    • I. Adagio non troppo — Allegro non tardante [7’47”]
    • II. Canzonetta. Allegretto [3’56”]
    • III. Andante espressivo [3’57”]
    • IV. Molto allegro e vivace [7’52”]
  • String Quartet No.2 in A minor, op.13 [29’14”]
    • I. Adagio — Allegro vivace [7’38”]
    • II. Adagio non lento [7’53”]
    • III. Intermezzo: Allegretto con moto — Allegro di molto [4’44”]
    • IV. Finale: Molto allegro [8’59”]
  • Octet in E♭ major, op.20 [30’20”]
    • I. Allegro moderato, ma con fuoco [13’41”]
    • II. Andante [6’47”]
    • III. Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo [4’14”]
    • IV. Presto [5’39”]
  • String Quartet No.3 in D major, op.44/1 [30’47”]
    • I. Molto allegro vivace [12’50”]
    • II. Menuetto. Un poco allegro [5’33”]
    • III. Andante espressivo ma con moto [5’25”]
    • IV. Presto con brio [6’58”]
  • String Quartet No.4 in E minor, op.44/2 [27’01”]
    • I. Allegro assai appassionato [10’29”]
    • II. Scherzo. Allegro di molto [4’06”]
    • III. Andante [6’05”]
    • IV. Presto agitato [6’20”]
  • String Quartet No.5 in E♭ major, op.44/3 [33’08”]
    • I. Allegro vivace [12’28”]
    • II. Scherzo. Assai leggiero vivace [4’05”]
    • III. Adagio non troppo [8’12”]
    • IV. Molto allegro con fuoco [8’23”]
  • String Quartet No.6 in F minor, op.80 [23’49”]
    • I. Allegro vivace assai [7’18”]
    • II. Allegro assai [4’24”]
    • III. Adagio [6’43”]
    • IV. Finale. Allegro molto [5’23”]
  • 4 Pieces for String Quartet, op.81 [19’40”]
    • I. Tema con variazioni [5’38”]
    • II. Scherzo [3’26”]
    • III. Capriccio [5’45”]
    • IV. Fuga [4’51”]

Track Arrangement in the CD Set

  • CD #1 [56’48”]:
    • String Quartet No.2 in A minor, op.13 (I – III)
    • 4 Pieces for String Quartet, op.81: IV. Fuga
    • String Quartet No.1 in E♭ major, op.12
  • CD #2 [60’09”]:
    • String Quartet No.4 in E minor, op.44/2
    • String Quartet No.5 in E♭ major, op.44/3
  • CD #3 [69’25”]:
    • String Quartet No.3 in D major, op.44/1
    • 4 Pieces for String Quartet, op.81: III. Capriccio
    • String Quartet No.6 in F minor, op.80
    • 4 Pieces for String Quartet, op.81: I. Tema con variazioni
    • 4 Pieces for String Quartet, op.81: II. Scherzo
  • “Bonus CD” (enhanced CD) [54’11” + video documentary]:
    • Octet in E♭ major, op.20
    • String Quartet in E♭ major (1823)
    • Video Documentary: Recording the Octet

I did not purchase the hardcopy CD set, but (as an exception) rather downloaded from Apple iTunes. When I did the iTunes purchase (2009-03-06), the download did not include the video documentary, but rather two additional tracks:

  • Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo (A) [4’15”]
  • Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo (B) [4’15”]

More on these tracks in the comparison above.

Merel Quartet / Castalian String Quartet — Mendelssohn: String Quartet No.1, Octet op.20

Mendelssohn: String Octet op.20 & String Quartet op.12 — Merel & Castalian String Quartets: CD cover

Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy: String Quartet No.1 in E♭ major, op.12; Octet in E♭ major, op.20

Merel Quartet
Castalian String Quartet (Octet)

Sony Music / Solo Musica SM 293 (CD, stereo, ℗ / © 2019)

Mendelssohn: String Octet op.20 & String Quartet op.12 — Merel & Castalian String Quartets: CD, EAN-13 barcode
amazon media link

The Mendelssohn Octet featured in a concert that I attended, in Wetzikon, on 2019-09-28. The artists were the Merel Quartet (Mary Ellen Woodside, Edouard Mätzener, Alessandro D’Amico, Rafael Rosenfeld), and the Castalian String Quartet (Sini Simonen, Daniel Roberts, Charlotte Bonneton, Christopher Graves).

I did review the concert. However, so far, I have not listened to or reviewed the recordings on the CD that the artists recorded around the time of that concert. I just realized that I don’t even have the hardcopy CD. I’m still giving the CD information for reference.- And I did now listen to that performance via streaming platforms, i.e., Spotify and IDAGIO.

As both the Merel Quartet and the Gringolts Quartet are (mainly) based in Zurich, one could call this “local competition”. In either case, though, the artists have plenty of other involvements, such as teaching, while also pursuing an international career as soloist, or performing in orchestras. Almost certainly, the two ensembles don’t feel like “stepping on each other’s toes”.

Track Listing

Both Works are by Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy (1809 – 1847):

  • String Quartet No.1 in E♭ major, op.12 [22’29”]
    • I. Adagio non troppo — Allegro non tardante [6’59”]
    • II. Canzonetta. Allegretto [3’54”]
    • III. Andante espressivo [3’48”]
    • IV. Molto allegro e vivace [7’48”]
  • Octet in E♭ major, op.20 [31’37”]
    • I. Allegro moderato, ma con fuoco [14’16”]
    • II. Andante [6’41”]
    • III. Scherzo: Allegro leggierissimo [4’39”]
    • IV. Presto [6’01”]

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