The Tetzlaff Quartet is unusual in consisting of four busy soloists who get together only intermittently. The upside is that what they do has the tension and imagination of four big personalities, and that certainly pays off here.
Their combined sound is highly refined and honed, resulting in a tautness of approach that gives Mendelssohn’s A minor Quartet real potency and drive. Even in the most driven passages, textures always have a sparkling clarity. Just dip into the first movement (beginning at 2’30”), where viola player Hanna Weinmeister takes over the melody with eloquence. The Elias are more refulgent in tone, generally more open-hearted in the touching Adagio non lento, but the Tetzlaff’s greater austerity is also very moving. And their finale is particularly searing, bringing out the contrast between the melodramatic tremolos and the leader’s impassioned recitatives, the light-as-air passages of the upper three players and the pungent pizzicatos of the cellist. The Elias are equally zesty but with a wilder edge here, as if chaos is a hair’s breadth away. Both, in their different ways, are riveting.
The Berg makes a compelling if unusual coupling and the Tetzlaff reveal its extraordinary beauties. They are alive to every nuance, every emotional change of this highly charged music, yet never lose sight of the music’s architecture. Just sample the way they move from an otherworldly quiet to the most impassioned playing (tr 6, from 2’37”) with a sense of inevitability and they convey the mournful desperation of the finale more potently than the Cecilia Quartet. I’d rate this new reading of the Lyric Suite alongside that treasurable performance of the Tetzlaff/Uchida/Boulez Chamber Concerto.