Mandelring Quartet

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February 23 - March 12, 2017

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Sebastian Schmidt - violin

Nanette Schmidt - violin

Andreas Willwohl - violin

Bernhard Schmidt - cello

 

In 2008, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung declared that the Mandelring Quartet was so good that it is a worthy successor to the Alban Berg Quartet. Writing of their Shostakovich cycle at the Salzburg Festival, the leading Austrian arts magazine, Die Bühne, named it as the heir of the legendary Borodin Quartet, and the renowned music magazine Fono Forum counts it as one of the six best string quartets in the world. 

Its expressivity and remarkable homogeneity of sound and phrasing have become its distinguishing characteristics. The four individual members perform as one in their shared determination to seek out the innermost core of the music and remain open to the musical truth. By grasping the spiritual dimension, exploring the emotional extremes and working on the details, these musicians probe far beneath the surface of each work, thus revealing the multiple layers of meaning inherent in each. Their approach to the music is always both emotional and personal.

Based in the German wine region in Neustadt an der Weinstrasse, the three Schmidt siblings  – Sebastian, Nanette and Bernhard - joined with violist Roland Glassl in a partnership dedicated to exemplary performances of chamber music. Their success in winning some of the world’s great competitions – Munich (ARD), Evian and Reggio Emilia (Premio Paolo Borciani) – launched an international career. Along with numerous performances throughout Germany, their concert tours have taken them throughout Europe – Amsterdam, Brussels, London, Madrid, Paris and Vienna; annually to North America – New York, Washington D.C., Chicago, Los Angeles and Vancouver; to Japan — Osaka and Tokyo; to Central and South America – Buenos Aires, Lima and Montevideo; the Middle East and Asia – including recent appearances in Dubai and Abu Dhabi.  The Mandelring Quartet has enjoyed highly successful appearances at major international Festivals including Lockenhaus, Montpelier, Montreal, Ottawa, the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, the Enescu Festival in Bucharest and the Salzburg Festival where they presented the complete cycle of 15 string quartets of Shostakovich over two days in 2011. 

The HAMBACHERMusikFEST, the quartet's festival, is an annual meeting point for lovers of chamber music from all over the world. Since 2010 the Quartet has presented regular series of concerts in the Chamber Music Hall of the Berlin Philharmonie and in its hometown of Neustadt.

Their numerous CD recordings have been repeatedly awarded the German Music Critics’ Prize and nominated for the International Classical Music Award, confirming the Mandelring Quartet’s exceptional quality and wide-ranging repertoire. Their recordings of the complete string quartets of Shostakovich has been hailed by the press as one of the outstanding complete recordings of our time. Discs of works by Schubert and Schumann have been selected as new benchmark performances, and their recent CD of the string quartets of Leos Janáček has received a range of awards. Currently, the quartet is recording the complete chamber music for strings by Mendelssohn; two of the four CDs have already been released.  

 

Critical Acclaim:

“Heavy Metal for Violins and Co.”

“From the first note of Beethoven's String Quartet in C minor Quartet the Mandelring displayed those qualities for which it is internationally renowned : an overwhelming homogeneity of the sound, coupled with a precision of detail that could hardly be outdone, versatility in design. No nuance was missed, no facet unnoticed with captivating style. In places, so fine and weightless in sound, that it hardly seemed tangible. Then with such a enormous intensity the room threatened to burst.” 

- SchwarwUalder-bote - October 22, 2013

 
“You can’t help but feel touched by this regally composed music that the Mandelring Quartet explores so expressively and finely tuned. The way the musicians mold this compositional mourning gesture, with spare rigor and sensitivity into a timeless cruciform shape is highly gratifying.” 

- Mannheimer Morgen - October 1, 2013

 
“In six concerts the entire string quartets of Shostakovich came to life. It was an enormous physical and mental effort for the Mandelring Quartet who have essayed this marathon several times. But also for the audience, who stayed for all 15 pieces. This was a daunting performance. The Mandelring Quartet is a top world-class ensemble. What the three siblings Schmidt and Roland Glassl have to offer - technical perfection, cultivated sound, variety of color, and inspiration - is unique. With intensity from the first to the last note, the musicians showed the enormous span of emotions. Violinist Sebastian Schmidt with large, round tone and admirable intonation, his sister Nanette equal in an ideal complement, violist Roland Glassl with a sonorous, fullbodied tone through all registers and Bernhard Schmidt on cello excellent support on the bottom. Each is a virtuoso soloist, together they create the quartet sound; its homogeneity, flexibility and color seems almost limitless. It could not have been more exciting.” 

-Saarbrücker Zeitung - June 18, 2013

 
“There cannot exist anything more mature, more moving, or more perfect than this." 

- Allgäuer Zeitung - May 13, 2013

“Brilliant Graz debut of the Mandelring Quartet”

“After hearing the Mandelring Quartet’s impressive award-winning, world class CDs, Sebastian, Nanette and Bernhard Schmidt and Roland Glassl gave a long overdue debut at the Musikverein of Graz. This was music-making with phenomenal homogeneity, a silky sheen to the strings and carefully nuanced dynamics. Schubert last string quartet was delivered with a huge range of tone while respective of the composer’s markings. It was overwhelming.” 

- Kleine Zeitung - April 26, 2013


“The listener is enchanted by their miraculous homogeneity, their elegance even at a dashing tempo, and by the intermingled cascades of notes.” 

- Der Tagesspiegel - April 17, 2013 

“Chamber music at the highest level: The Mandelring Quartet proves impressively why it is the best of its kind”
“What we read 15 years ago in a national newspaper about the fabulously homogeneous and technically brilliant Mandelring Quartet, applies today. Listeners got to hear chamber music interpretations of enormous polish.”

- Südkurier - April 13, 2013

“There was a special treat for classical music in Stravinsky Hall. The Society of Friends of Music presented the Mandelring Quartet, one of the best string quartets in the world. Four individuals merge into a perfect musical unity. Some of their recordings are now recognized as the new musical standard. The four musicians sent the audience home enthusiastic and uplifted.”

- Schwarzwalder-bote - April 12, 2013

“The had to bring in extra chairs, the program books were scarce. This ensemble reinforced its strong reputation notably. It has claimed a unique position for itself in terms of homogeneity, impeccable style and profound exploration of the works of the composers.”

- Mannheimer Morgen - April 14, 2013

 
“Their playing is so transparent, so accurate in every detail, and has a rhythmic impetus that so well understands the music's inner coherence, that one has the impression of hearing the first movement properly for the very first time. In the Mandelring Quartet's interpretation all the nuances of its dynamic range come across with breathtaking clarity.” 

- Berliner Zeitung - February 21, 2013

“Passion goes hand in hand with an acute sensitivity to the development of tension and form. The Mandelring Quartet performs Schubert's ‘Death and the Maiden’ as a somber dance of death. All the more heart-rending are the passages of furious defiance.” 

- Neues Deutschland - February 27, 2013

 “The Mandelring Quartet achieves a noble sonority combined with very deep insight, prioritizing detail over drama. Their playing has nothing in common with that of the Alban Berg Quartet, though they have been hailed as that quartet's heirs. The presiding spirit here is not borrowed: it is entirely their own. This becomes almost tangible when the four players play the second string quartet of György Ligeti between their two encounters with Schubert. A delight.”

- Tagesspiegel - February 21, 2013 

“Interpretation concentrated and brilliantly presented.”
“So transparent, detailed and with a rhythmic pulse, it captures the relationships in the ensemble, as if to hear it properly for the first time in this moment. Its dynamic shines with the Mandelring Quartet’s breathtaking sophistication.”           

- Berliner Zeitung - February 21, 2013

“The Mandelring play these works with an unencumbered authority that borders on the definitive. This has become a disc to be acquired with some degree of urgency.” 

- Audiophile Audition - February 28, 2013 

“String Quartet No. 3 leaps off the page in one of the most dazzling displays of quartet ensemble I have been privileged to hear. The ‘Molto allegro vivace’ is taken at face value and even at such a speed, the Mandelrings manage to honor the vivace marking; there is much beauty to admire and they deliver a thrillingly wide dynamic range. The unanimity of approach from the quartet is all too rarely heard and their intonation is beyond criticism.  The easy lyricism of the Mandelring's playing is bound to bring hope to even the most saddened heart. As Mendelssohn gradually increases the emotional temperature, so does the passion and intensity of the Mandelring's response. The electricity that is suddenly switched back on for the Finale is startling on more than just the first listen - playing like this really ought to carry a health warning! In the calmer moments the Mandelring find just the right balance between repose and forward momentum so that these passages feel at one with the bravura episodes. There is a noticeable change of mood for the remainder of the disc. The Mandelring players replace the brilliance with a more introverted seriousness that befits the new mood. The Mandelrings again allow their music to reflect the music in a seemingly natural manner - the hardest of all interpretative tricks to pull off. In both quartets, the balance between the melodic lines and the turbulence is superbly done. The E minor Quartet has a Scherzo that fizzes in these hands - it is like hearing sparks fly from an anvil, such is the brilliance and white heat of the playing. The Andante is played with a winning charm and disarming ease that allows the tenderness of Mendelssohn's music to be appreciated - a delight from beginning to end. After a recital of such caliber it is wonderful to be able to report that Audite have given the Mandelrings a recording fully worthy of the playing. Even by the phenomenally high standards they have set themselves, this Mandelring Quartet disc must count as one of their finest achievements on disc to date.” 

- SA-CD.net - January 2013

“Fire and elegance”
“Something very lively is going on, and the Mandelring Quartet illustrates this to the full. Mendelssohn's gossamer elegance, for instance in the fast middle movements, is in the best of hands. In several passages, these four string players attack the accents and tremoli with great vigour and crispness, thereby giving the music a more sharply etched contour, and this contrasts with the elfin intricacies which they delineate with the finest of brushstrokes. The F minor Quartet strikes a more sombre note than almost anything else he ever wrote. The way these players involve us in this grief-laden, restlessly forward-surging music is breathtaking.”

- Fono Forum - January 2013

“The hall is hushed, attentive, listening almost with trepidation at even the slightest rustle. The award-winning Mandelring Quartet playing with taut, somewhat mesmerizing tone, one really wants to hear everything: so much beauty and action, fragility and aggressiveness. In the third quartet, the evening gains depth; with the fourth, already the spell can be felt in both the quartet and the audience.” 

- Der Tagespiel - November 27, 2012

“The canard that Mendelssohn lost his vital spark towards the end, never persuasive, is blown sky-high by the tremendous Op 80 quartet. Perhaps inspiration faltered in midlife. In the D major, the first of the Op 44s, he seems to be going through the motions ? expertly, gracefully, but, except in the finale, without the old animation. The molto allegro vivace begins like a pale echo of the great octet's similar opening. The outstanding Mandelring Quartett, however, play both it and the E minor with the utmost conviction, and their account of Op 80 does justice to that harrowing expression of Mendelssohn's despair at the death of his beloved sister Fanny." 

-  Sunday Times - November 18, 2012

“Praised be the musicians of Mandelring Quartet. Critics think they are among the best string quartets in the world. On Thursday they showed that this is no rumor.” 

- Haller Kreisblatt - October 13, 2012


“Incredible homogeneity of interaction”
“The Mandelring Quartet’s recording of all 15 string quartets of Shostakovich was hailed by the press as one of the outstanding complete editions of our time. What a gift to lovers of Chamber Music that the Society presented these exemplary interpretations in a five-part series! Which, by the way, which puts our audience in league with the Salzburg Festival and the Berlin Philharmonic. This evening provided no end of wonders. The performances were shattering. After the passionate F major Quartet, there was a storm of enthusiastic applause.” 

- Mannheimer Morgen - October 29, 2012

“An ebullient recording of Mendelssohn’s early music for quartet”
“The Mandelring Quartet always achieves an instinctive internal balance, and here the players bring their distinctive blend and contrast of tonal timbre to the three quartets Mendelssohn had completed by his 20th year. Of particular delight is their Minuetto, performed as a foretaste of a composer who would bring elfin charm to the music of his day. The Mandelring musicians invest its opening movement and Presto finale with abundant drama to contrast with the lightweight Intermezzo. They underscore the genial aspects of Op.12, with its mercurial scherzo that could have come straight from A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the finale emerges as a veritable whirlwind. Throughout, the playing is technically immaculate and the whole disc is recorded with absolute clarity. One looks forward to the promised continuation of this complete edition of Mendelssohn’s string chamber music.” 

- The Strad - September 2012 

“What a fascinating idea to present the famous Orava of Wojciech Kilar.  The avant-garde tonality of the composer is perfect for the concert hall. Moreover the rhythmically refined and rousing piece does not lose these brilliant effects, thanks to the refreshing enthusiasm and precision of these young artists. With the thunderous applause, no one remained in their seats. Introducing this musically rich evening was the  Mandelring Quartet. The award-winning ensemble fills concert halls throughout Europe with accuracy and harmony. Illustrating this: the four movements of Tchaikovsky's first string quartet. Intimate with clean line, these four make their strings sing. The rousing finale was Boccherini's Quintet for Strings and Guitar. It was a pleasure to watch the performers play this spirited music with syncopated swing, plucking, slapping, beating on their strings and feel the drive of life in one’s heart, one’s ears and one’s bones.” 

- Rhein-Zeitung - June 4, 2012 

“At the conclusion of a most colorful, even spectacular concert given by the Mandelring Quartet, the audience erupted in cascades of appreciation. With music by Mendelssohn, Sejourne, Debussy and Rosauro, the ensemble clearly defined itself as a dominant force in classic and contemporary music interpretation, experimental, audacious, and lustrously passionate. The concert opened with the D Major Quartet by Mendelssohn whose Molto allegro vivace proved a natural vehicle for the exuberant Mandelrings, often feverish in their symphonic sound, perfectly homogenized for tonal balances. The delicate third movement allowed first violin Sebastian Schmidt a moving cadenza, a songful foil to his more concertante virtuosity in movement one. The last movement proffered a saltarello. Here, viola Glassi and cello Bernhard Schmidt made sonorous points in the midst of a blazing Presto con brio that took no prisoners.  The Debussy Quartet captured the evening, which says a great deal in the face of the grand finale. The scintillating colors of the Mandelring made us attend to the kaleidoscope on its own terms. The indication from the composer ‘avec passion,’ certainly found faithful acolytes in the Mandelring, who delivered an incandescent reading from first note to last. The one encore by Lucas Guimot, especially conceived for the ensemble, confirmed our impression of an immensely talented group who sport a combination of sounds guaranteed to excite more contemporary composition. Kudos to the San Jose Chamber Music Society under whose auspices this brilliant concert took place.” 

- ClassicalMusicGuide.com - March 19, 2012

The Mandelring Quartet is well-suited, sonically, for collaboration with a marimbist. First violinist Sebastian Schmidt has a distinctively smooth, mellow tone that’s perhaps the closest thing a string instrument can offer to the marimba sound. He displayed this tone also in Mendelssohn’s Quartet in D Major, one of two string quartets from the standard repertoire that were offered to enlarge the program and vary the mood. This was a cool-toned performance that cruised through the work with calm seas and a prosperous voyage. Schmidt was prominent in the lead; the other performers gave rhythmic emphasis in their accompaniment, especially in lyric passages. The remaining work on the program was Debussy’s Quartet in G minor. Their scherzo was gentle and contemplative, by contrast with the Rosauro. Debussy’s slow movement fared well in a similar approach; the ending, in particular, was a beautiful array of finely judged tone colors. Violist Glassl had some outstandingly forthright passages in both movements.” 

- SF Classical Voice - March 16, 2012 

“Thrilling Sea of Flames”
“The Mandelring Quartet performed in Aalen’s completely sold out town hall. Without doubt one of the best string quartets of our time, the Quartet, prior to a big North American tour, matched its remarkable international reputation with marimba virtuoso Katarzyna Mycka. The Mandelring Quartet is famous for collaborative projects with outstanding musicians on other instruments. Beethoven's string quartets are among the finest of their genre. With No. 4 in C minor the Mandelring Quartet has chosen a work of urging passion. Whether with massive chords or the finest pianissimo, the players manage to build up tension from the first tone. The quartet is uncanny in finding the right balance between emotion and intellect. The absolute homogeneity of sound, phrasing and expression makes the finale of the rondo a blaze of excitement. During the concerto by Séjourné, Katarzyna Mycka seems to dance along her instrument. Her soft, fluent body movements stand in complete contrast to the whirling sticks, darting about the instrument. The Concerto by Rosauro is one of the most popular pieces for this impressive instrument. Mycka amply displays the tonal possibilities of the marimba with her light and technically vivacious playing.  Mendelssohn’s String Quartet No. 3 requires solo skills from the first and second violin.Sebastian Schmidt shines with his finely polished technique, never overpowering and always with an intimate, aural connection to the other players. A sparkling Presto con brio completes the work, which draws musical expression from the Mandelring Quartet in all registers. As a musical and aesthetic pleasure for a completely enthusiastic audience, an additional tango closed the concert.” 

- Schwäbische Post – January 20, 2012 

 “On a superb-sounding SACD, Audite gives us Janáček’s string quartets performed by the Mandelring Quartet, whose Shostakovich cycle was so rewarding. ‘Intimate Letters’ is heard both in the familiar version and with viola d’amore. Janáček originally planned to employ this ‘instrument of love’ and its presence subtly modifies the effect of the piece.” 

- Fanfare - November / December 2011 

“I have spent most of my recent time listening to recordings of a new traversal of Dmitri Shostakovich’s 15 string quartets by the Mandelring Quartet, on Audite. By any measure, this is some of the most extraordinary music written during the 20th century. While there is exquisite beauty here, much of the music is hair-raising, even frightening. Do not let this description put you off; this is very human music. Shostakovich never hides in abstraction, like so many 20th-century composers. The Mandelring Quartet provides an extraordinary experience in its traversal. Of these quartets, writer Wendy Lesser said, ‘The four familial instruments seem to whisper directly into our ears, communing with us about our own personal sadness and anxieties.’ This is the sense conveyed by the young Mandelring players. Three of the four quartet members are siblings, and the fourth plays as if he were a family member. The sense they give is as if these quartets were taking place inside a single soul. They play within themselves, achieving an extraordinary quality of interiority and unanimity. I have written before that we are blessed to be living in a time of superb musicianship; count these Audite recordings as exhibit A. I will still return to the Borodin Quartet, but the Mandelring will retain a very special place.”

- Catholic News Agency - October 27, 2011

 “A wonderful idea! All fifteen string quartets by Dmitri Shostakovich. Though not on two nights in a row, but as a cycle over three years. When Shostakovich began his first string quartet, for a year he composed nothing but one quartet: "I started to write it without any particular thoughts or feelings," he noted. Therefore one should not be looking for particular profundity.” That it is not as harmless as its creator claimed was proved by the Mandelring Quartet’s exceptional performance, which demonstrated why Schostakovitch should be considered one of the foremost string quartet composers of the 20th century.”

- Mannheimer Morgen - October 2011 

 “Tremendous achievement. Mandelring Quartet thrills with Shostakovich Quartet marathon at Salzburg Festival”
“The renowned German Mandelring Quartet scored a singular artistic achievement with their presentation at the Salzburg Festival 2011. In just two days they brought us 30 years of intimate, poignant composition: the 15 string quartets of Dmitri Shostakovich from the time of the Soviet State. In doing so they confirm their highly acclaimed complete recording of the same works.

- Süddeutsche Zeitung - September 13, 2011 

 “Stunning Mandelring Quartet in Salzburg – A Great Moment for Music”
“Nearly 30 years of quartet-playing experience, and that among siblings and friends no less, is an absolute guarantee for perfect ensemble playing. When one adds artistic ambition and performs Shostakovich's 15 Quartets – probably the most important quartet cycle of the twentieth century - within two days during the course of the Salzburg Festival, then such a project can become a great moment. And this was indeed the case with the Mandelring Quartet at the Great Hall of the Mozarteum on Thursday. The Mandelring Quartet was once again able to display its inimitable characteristics. Especially impressive were the slow movements, which were lent an incredible depth under the bows of the Mandelrings.” 

- Oberösterreichische Nachrichten - August 20, 2011

 “After four concerts in two days, as the Mandelring Quartet breathed out the final, sparse notes of Shostakovich's 15th String Quartet, Friday after 10:00 PM at the Mozarteum, it was finally time to give them a standing ovation. Pure silence following this ever-magnificent, intense and unique artistic effort would have been more appropriate. But it would not have sufficiently expressed the gratitude owed for their enormous achievement. A memorable experience, not soon to be repeated.”

- Salzburger Nachrichten - August 22, 2011

“As each work brought the Mandelring Quartet closer to the final 15th, the intensity of playing increased – twelve concert hours in two days, a complete string-quartet cycle that will remain with us for a long time. Simply breathtaking.” 

- Salzburger Volkszeitung - August 22, 2011

 “The Mandelrings reveal a flair for the characteristically rhapsodic style and the broad, almost symphonic breath permeating the chamber music of Shostakovich. They placed themselves in the tradition of the first interpreters of these works, the Beethoven Quartet of Russia who – unlike their contemporary competitors – largely abstained from all high-pressure expression while bringing out the increasingly resigned, radical quality of this music all the more strongly. Shostakovich himself sarcastically provided these performing tips for his harrowing E-flat minor Quartet of 1974: ‘Play the first movement so that the flies fall dead from the sky and the public leaves the hall out of sheer boredom.’ The Salzburg audience, however, deeply moved, remained seated until the very end.” 

- Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - August 24, 2011

 “The Mandelring Quartet is to be admired. Sebastian, Nanette and Bernhard Schmidt with Roland Glassl work out concentrated nuances and refinement, intensifying their playing during brutally rapturous cascades without ever surrendering control over tone quality and sound. They are ideally-matched executors of these works.”  

- DrehPunktKultur.at - August 19, 2011

 “The Mandelring Quartet plays with near-perfect intonation, razor-sharp articulation, and very precise ensemble in these highly recommendable performances. Their playing is showcased by the very vivid sound of Audite’s SACD recording in which the micing pinpoints the exact location of each player. Along with its extraordinary recorded sound, the Mandelring’s disc stands out among a surplus of excellent versions of these works for including an alternate version of the second quartet. What’s fascinating is how the gentler timbre of the viola d’amore, often the work’s melodic protagonist, sweetens the tone of Janáček declarations of love. The other instruments react with adjustments to their volume and the general effect is less fierce than with the more projected voice of the normal viola. If you love this piece, the viola d’amore version gives insight into what Janáček imagined, but it’s very subtle.” 

- Fanfare Magazine - July/August 2011

“It’s not always a compliment to a musician to say that one is pleased when he stops. But it’s different with the Mandelring Quartet. The ensemble, which has established itself as the top German string quartet, is in the process of presenting a series of movement endings that are so light-footed and yet so suspenseful, that the listener constantly has to pinch himself to make sure he isn’t dreaming. Endings that are so effective are of course a logical sequel to what has been heard beforehand. The gentle excitement of an evening’s offering devoted to the friendship between the composers Janácek, Dvorák and Brahms is crafted by the quartet from an approach that seeks to avoid stark effects. In what follows, the players make their own point. In Janácek’s String Quartet No. 1, passion and resignation are subtly balanced, as is the constant interplay of tonal colours, tempi and the structure of the movements. The Mandelring Quartet interprets Brahms’s String Quartet No. 2 both convincingly and with consistency. So it is good news, announced before the encore, that the quartet’s series will continue next February.” 

- Der Tagesspiegel - May 12, 2011


 “Lightness of touch, svelte beauty of sound and breathtaking transparency are the hallmarks of the Mandelring Quartet’s playing. It is a delight to hear how they take over the charming, lilting theme of the Andante from each other in turn so as to exhibit their solo qualities; the mood in the Finale is sparkling. In Mendelssohn’s E flat major quartet the first violin, Sebastian Schmidt, has to deliver what is in effect a solo concerto, yet nothing can upset the soft, warm-toned balance of his partners. In the Finale the lyrical character of the first three movements, which at times has something of the prettiness of the drawing-room about it, is transformed into effervescent passion – a mood that the late-romantic César Franck succeeded in taking to dizzy heights in his monumental Piano Quintet. It is a small miracle that the ensemble keeps its transparent composure, introduces accents into the meandering flow to give it structure, and navigates around any potential lapse of taste with unerring nobility.”

- Der Tagesspiegel - February 16, 2011


There are quite a few excellent recordings to choose from that pair these two works. This new release from the Mandelring Quartet, however, is very appealing, and not just because it’s the first SACD version I’m aware of that couples the quartet and quintet on the same disc. Whether it has to do with the recording itself, the placement of the musicians on the stage, the acoustics of the Bayer Kulturhaus in Leverkusen, Germany, where the performances were recorded, the extraordinarily transparent playing of the Mandelring Quartet, or some combination of the above, I have never heard such detail emerge from these scores. It’s almost like hearing these pieces for the first time. At the very beginning of the quartet, in the slow introduction, each entrance of the strings seems to materialize out of the piano’s decaying notes as they hang in the air, creating a magical atmosphere of expectancy. Or, take the rapid downward run that announces the development section. In other recordings I’ve heard, it’s just a rapid blur, kind of like the effect of a glissando on the piano. But here the individual notes are heard distinctly. Take the passage beginning at 5:19. So often what is heard in the piano at this point is an indistinct rumbling in the bass, but here you realize that in counterpoint to the strings the piano is actually playing a modulating sequence based on the first four notes of the Allegro. These may seem like little things, and individually they are; but when you put them all together, they add up to a performance of exceptional sharpness and character, not to mention raising one’s appreciation of Schumann’s ingenuity. This is playing that points out every accent along the way and manages to highlight every hand-off of material from one voice to another even amid one of the fleetest movements in the chamber music repertoire. The Andante cantabile pulsates with lump-in-the-throat throbbing, and the Finale displays such exactitude and cleanness of execution that it actually sounds much faster than it is. Everything I’ve said about the Mandelring’s performance of the quartet applies equally to the quintet. It’s an exceptionally revealing reading in which every detail is laid bare. What I marvel at is how carefully prepared, rehearsed, and controlled these performances are—as if nothing has been left to chance—yet how spontaneous and animated they still manage to sound. Timing, as they say, is everything. Unfortunately, another recording of Schumann’s piano quartet with the Eaken Trio came to me in the same batch of review assignments as this one, a performance that could not help but suffer in comparison. I’ve heard a number of the Mandelring’s CDs, and even reviewed two or three of them in prior issues, and while the ensemble has always impressed me favorably, quite honestly I was not prepared for anything of this caliber. Other contributors—namely Brenesal, Anderson, McColley, and Laurson—have all spoken of the Mandelring’s alertness, exceptional coordination, and scrupulousness in attention to detail. But this Schumann disc passes beyond all that into the rarefied realm of the sublime. I haven’t yet made my final selections for this year’s Want List, but if this release isn’t on it, I’ll be as surprised as anyone. Need I say, recommended with the greatest urgency? 

- Fanfare Magazine - December 2010
 

“This would count as a desirable disc of Janáček’s quartets even without its added extra.  And quite an extra it is: a second performance of the Second Quartet with a viola d’amore replacing the viola.  The viola d’amore was Janáček’s original choice, a personification of the passion he felt for the object of the “intimate letters that give the quartet its title.  That original (reconstructed) version is played here with Gunter Teuffel playing an instrument the composer himself would have known.  Just to confuse the listener, the ‘normal’ version comes second on this disc, not third as it appears in the track listings. The Mandelring players bring a remarkable high-voltage intensity to all these quartets, aided by a resonant acoustic, with an urgent sense of communication achieved through a freedom of pulse underlying powerfully sustained musical paragraphs.  They can be beautiful, certainly, in both quartets, but this is disquieting stuff, superbly played.  Against such applying the softer viola d’amore sometimes sounds a little weak, even with certain adjustments to the other parts – the normally bowed opening is now pizzicato.  The ensemble is better balanced with violist Roland Glassl among his colleagues.  But there is a bittersweet tang to the viola d’amore: no wonder Janáček’s was reluctant to part with it.” 

- The Strad - December 2010

 

World’s Six Best String Quartets FonoForum:

“The Mandelring Quartet is the second ensemble in this selection in which three siblings communicate with each other. This may be just a coincidence; perhaps, however, it is an indication that teamwork is facilitated by common roots. The three Schmidts and their viola colleague Roland Glassl also achieve a maximum of homogeneity and organic phrasing, without having to hide their own strong characters. When these prerequisites are employed in a lively, expressive and tasteful manner as they are here, then interpretations of gripping intensity can come into being. And here the ensemble has recently been successful above all with its Shostakovich recordings, the exceptional quality of which assigns the Mandelring Quartet a place among the leading international quartets.”

- FonoForum - November 2010

 

 “To begin, the Mandelring Quartet played alone with expression of controlled excitement. The interpretations of Mendelssohn's third and Debussy's only string quartet were bursting with dazzling life. The precision of articulation and the tonal purity are both unprecedented. They find their counterpart in the vibrating musical current of energy, spiced with a lot of pepper. Tonal friction is stressed in its dramatic function without unduly emphasizing it. So it is actually amazing how homogeneously the marimba, with wooden mallets, adapts to the emotional sound of the string instruments. Séjournés’ and Rosauros’ concerti for marimba and strings mix Latin-American rhythms and movements oriented to European compositional structure into striking, scherzande pieces of music. The virtuosity, the lively, enthusiastic, sheer love of playing of the soloist Katarzyna Myćka refreshed the audience with a breeze of swinging nonchalance. On this evening there could be no question of a crisis in the chamber music concert scene.” 

- Stuttgarter Nachrichten, November 8, 2010

 

“Sebastian, Nanette and Bernhard Schmidt and their colleague Roland Glassl worked up a burning intensity and were able to combine fiery musicality with dark brilliance in ensembles and solo development. What followed were two works that exactly complemented what best suited the program: wonderful and rich in colour. The four string players invited the marimba virtuoso Katarzyna Myćka; this combination with classical quartet was a splendid event. In pieces by Séjourné and Rosauro, she let out all the stops, from gentle strokes on the keyboard to powerful, physically impressive outbursts; all the while in elegant tone and inspired harmony with the stylistically certain Mandelring Quartet. The conclusion? Chamber Music can be and  is great fun.”

- Stuttgarter Zeitung - November 10, 2010


“This new release commands attention with a reconstruction of the Second Quartet in its original form, complete with viola d’amore. This issue is more than a fascinating curiosity, with the Mandelring Quartet fully at ease with the technical demands of both quartets. There’s a magical largamente climax in the middle of the Second Quartet’s third movement and it sounds stunning here – an explicit declaration of love, the first violin singing out in the upper register. Both works are masterpieces, and I envy anyone hearing them for the first time.” 

- TheArtsDesk.com - October 23, 2010

 

“A stirring German-French co-productions - the renowned Mandelring Quartet found the Parisian pianist Claire-Marie Le Guay for its recording of Schumann's Piano Quintet. The result is both subtle and bold.”

- ARTE –-June 29, 2010

 

“The Mandelring Quartet’s repertoire is wide and inclusive, but that such vivacious, robust young musicians should want to immerse themselves in this mournful, despondent music is amazing. Equally remarkable is the skill with which they negotiate its violent mood swings, from grotesque ‘gallows humor’ to bleak despair. The solos and duets are spare and desolate, the slashing chords forceful, the sound effects eerie, the long glissandi – very slow, almost measured – ominous. The Mandelrings underline contrasts of mood and character with color and articulation. The Mandelring Quartet is a family affair, but that alone cannot account for their perfect balance and intonation, their musical unanimity and instrumental equality. This final volume of their Shostakovich cycle brings a major undertaking to an impressive conclusion.”

- Strings Magazine – June 2010


 “Another revelation are the audiophile recordings of the Mandelring Quartet. The sheer beauty of all of Shostakovich's brilliantly harrowing ugliness that these discs reveal, is something to behold. It's so good. One exception to the seething-calm of these quartets is the harrowingly sudden, jagged opening of the 11th quartet, which is ripped into with such joyous ferocity by the Borodin Quartet that it seems difficult to top. The Mandelring won't be outdone this time. The group's slash is yet even more explosive, even as its tone remains, as always, utterly refined. The German quartet gets the mix just right. To my ears, the Mandelring's carefully considered, always unpredictable ways are a treasure. Yes, its performances are polished and meticulous, even immaculate. But its unpredictability – terribly refined one second, ruthlessly vigorous the next – keeps it from being relegated to the lot of ‘mild mannered’ cycles. The dynamic range and fidelity of the recordings does its part to lift it above much of the competition. I prefer this cycle. The direct comparison I've done puts the Mandelring Quartet's cycle up with the best of the non-Russian Shostakovich interpretations. If I were to shed all but two cycles, 1 would keep the Borodin cycle and the Mandelring Quartet.”

- Fanfare - May 2010

 

 “Shostakovich: score!’ There are no surprises in the final recording of Shostakovich’s complete works by the Mandelring Quartet which confirms all the malleable qualities seen in the previous volumes, and likewise proceeds in a western style, full of drive. That’s what strikes most in this version: it aims towards achievement. There is drama, but in the English theatrical meaning of the word, not the tormenting, tragic Latin sense.  Which adds to accessibility. Shostakovich loved soccer and his music has enough character to leave the door open to contrasting interpretative options. The English-speaking press seems fond of the Mandelring’s straight-to-the-goal vision.” 

- ResMusica (France) - May 18, 2010

 

 “From the very first notes the musicians captivated the audience through their

perfect homogeneity. Even the most subtle phrasing, accents and dynamic shadings were given with perfect synchronicity. When the Mandelring Quartet is here, one should not expect less than a triumph of chamber music.”

- Neues Deutschland - April 13, 2010

 

 “Their playing is tonally blended and blemish free; they are scrupulous in their attention to internal details like shifting tempo indications, such as those in the 12th Quartet's two extended movements; and they present a coherent, unified point of view throughout all three works. There are moments in this music that can set your hair on end or take your breath away.” 

- Fanfare - September/October 2009

 

 “Purity of tone rings in heavenly places throughout their performance.”

-  Fanfare - July/August 2009

 

 “If we had a hologram image of the Mandelring Quartet, the illusion of the ensemble’s vivid presence would be complete, so palpable are the four instruments in SACD processing.” 

- Audiophile Audition - March 9, 2009

 

 “Those who love chamber music should not miss this weekend’s visit by the Mandelring Quartet, a phenomenal trio of siblings-plus-one playing here for the first time. The Mandelring four played like demons possessed. And, frankly, this came as a surprise following their Zen-like performance of Mozart’s ‘Hunt’ Quartet in which the playing projected a gentle, flawless mastery emanating from a nucleus of calm control. One could say that the movements were all ‘superbly judged’ in terms of dynamics and phrasing, but these musicians have seemingly surpassed making ‘judgments.’ They have it in their bones. This is a work close to the Mandelring’s hearts, and they excelled in every one of the score’s challenges. The last movement presto is a perfect fusion of mental and emotional energy. And that’s the way it was played.”     

- SanDiego.com - March 7, 2009

 

 “The music scene suffered a severe loss when the Alban Berg Quartet disbanded. But in art, everything ‘flows’: the Mandelrings' Schubert recordings already showed that they have the stuff to form the new ‘pinnacle’ of their profession. These Shostakovich recordings demonstrate that this pinnacle is not only rooted in tradition but extends into the modern age.”  

- Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung - July 19, 2008