String Quartet No. 4 in E minor, Op. 44, No. 2
While Mendelssohn may have been the least forward-looking of the important Romantics, practicing a certain Classical purity in his quartets rather than the emotional outpourings and stretching of formal boundaries of his contemporaries, passion and virtuosity are hardly lacking. Least of all in the three quartets of Op. 44, of which that published as “No. 2” was actually the first in order of composition – in the fall of 1837.
In March of 1837 Felix married Cécile Jeanrenaud and worked on this chronologically first Quartet of Op. 44 during their honeymoon in the Black Forest, completing the work in mid-June. The composer dispenses with a slow introduction, getting us immediately into the action of this most substantial – in size and emotion – first movement, with the main melodic subject rising over an agitated accompaniment.
The second movement is the not-unexpected fast Scherzo, with those character- istic scampering elves again – it wouldn’t be Mendelssohn without them – yet he never repeats himself melodically when in this vein, from one work to another. The slow, sweetly sentimental third movement is in the composer’s most fetching “Song Without Words” (solo piano pieces played in every middle-class home in mid-century Europe) style.
The sonata-rondo finale is alternatingly lush and tersely rhythmical, a panoply of concertante writing for the four instruments (notwithstanding solo excursions by the first violin) with thematic links to the Quartet’s opening movement.
— Herbert Glass