The fifth CD boxed set, Vol. V, from the series The RIAS Amadeus Quartet Recordings is dedicated to nineteenth-century Romantic composers. This six-volume edition presents exclusively first releases on CD. The Amadeus Quartet included a wider repertoire in the broadcasting studio than in the recording studio. Works by Edvard Grieg and Robert Schumann interpreted by the Amadeus Quartet can be heard here for the first time on CD. And five works in this edition represent novel repertoire that the Amadeus Quartet never recorded on LP: Dvorák's Piano Quintet in A Major, Op. 81, Grieg's String Quartet in G Minor, Op. 27, Mendelssohn's String Quartet in E-flat Major, Op. 12, as well as Schumann's String Quartet in A Major, Op. 41, No. 3 and Piano Quintet in E-flat Major, Op. 44.
Brahms composed choral music prolifically throughout his life. As the heir to Bach and the German Protestant tradition, he based most of his motets on texts from Luther’s translation of the Bible – yet succeeded in infusing them with Romanticism at its most soulful.
Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy’s oratorio Elias Op. 70 was premiered in 1846 at the Birmingham Festival. It depicts the life of the prophet Elijah, taken from the books 1 and 2 Kings of the Old Testament. While it was composed in the spirit of Mendelssohn’s Baroque predecessors Bach and Handel, its lyricism and use of orchestral and choral color clearly reflects Mendelssohn’s own genius as an early Romantic composer. Paulus Op. 36, written a decade earlier, was a popular work during Mendelssohn’s lifetime, but failed to maintain its stature in comparison to his other oratorios and the oratorios of Handel and Bach.
The Amadeus Quartet developed a reputation as one of the finest string quartets from the second half of the twentieth century. Its tradition and style were Viennese and its repertory was largely Austro-German: Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, and Brahms were at the core, though it performed works by Smetana, Franck, Bruckner, Bartók, Britten, Tippett, and other twentieth century composers. They also regularly performed quintets and sextets (Mozart, Brahms, Schubert, etc.), usually adding cellist William Pleeth and/or violist Cecil Aronowitz. The Amadeus was one of the longest-lived quartets, performing for 40 years without a personnel change, and it was also among the most popular string quartets in England, Germany, the United States, and parts of Europe. It made numerous recordings – many still available – for several labels, including DG, Decca, and EMI.
Of all the nearly forgotten music by Mendelssohn, the most nearly completely forgotten is his music for chorus. Only his songs come close to being as almost entirely ignored, but because a few of them have earned a place in the recital hall, even they have a more prominent place in the repertoire. This 10-disc Brilliant set of Mendelssohn's complete choral works featuring the Chamber Choir of Europe under Nicol Matt addresses this problem even though it may not solve it. The performances are uniformly excellent. The Choir has a smooth tone and superb diction and Matt elicits from them polished balanced and ardent interpretations.
These classic recordings need little comment from me on artistic grounds. Heifetz's account of the Mendelssohn never has been bettered for sheer dazzling virtuosity, and although the Beethoven is more controversial (some find it "cold"), I love its unaffected, truly classical purity. Besides, you also get Munch and the Boston Symphony, no mean bonus. It's interesting to compare the two performances in multichannel sound, since the Beethoven is two-track, while the Mendelssohn offers three.